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June 30-July 6–Sheep and Wolves

Contributed by R. Paul Henrickson, Chaplain and Dean of the Chapel, Roanoke College, Salem, VA

Warm-up Question

Go around the group and respond to the following:

  • Is the world more populated by sheep or wolves?
  • Would you rather be a sheep or a wolf?
  • Name a sheep; name a wolf.
  • Are Christians among the sheep or the wolves?
  • Does Christianity have any enemies?

Sheep and Wolves

I write this on June 21, 2010.  I am reminded by the New York Times, that on this day in 1964, three civil rights workers disappeared in Philadelphia, Miss. Their bodies were found buried in an earthen dam six weeks later. Eight members of the Ku Klux Klan went to prison on federal conspiracy charges; none served more than six years.  In our day, working for justice continues to have its dangerous side, however, one is more likely to be threatened with the weapon of apathy rather than with a club or a gun.

Jesus warns his disciples:  “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.”

In our present day, there is a full scale attack on Christianity, led by some who hold to the assumption that God does not matter and that religion is for those who have become thoughtlessly captive to “memes” .  Richard Dawkins,  who coined this word for a cultural idea, symbol, or practice goes on to say: “I doubt that religion can survive deep understanding. The shallows are its natural habitat.”

Some writers have begun to describe Europe as a “post-Christian” society.  In our own country estimates about how many people attend worship suggest that less than 22% of Americans attend worship each week. ( Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Volume 44, Number 3, September 2005 , pp. 307-322)  Among young adults (18-29), 72% say that they are “spiritual, but not religious.”  In this group, 65% never or rarely attend worship services.  (

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever been threatened because of your Christian faith?
  • What hinders us from proclaiming the Gospel story?
  • Are we headed into a “post-Christian” age?
  • Why do you think fewer people call themselves “believers?”
  • Do you know people who say the are “spiritual but not religious?”

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, July 4, 2010 (Sixth Sunday after Pentecost)

Isaiah 66:10-14

Galatians 6:[1-6] 7-16

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

(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

There are a few essays that I read over every three months or so to keep me from grazing too far from the Word.  When my preaching has become rather predictable (or dry), I read Stanley Hauerwas’ article: “Preaching As Though We Had Enemies.”  In this essay he writes, “Most of us do not go to church because we are seeking a safe haven from our enemies; we go to church to be assured we have no enemies.”

In the text for this week, Jesus assures us that speaking the Gospel will be a dangerous calling.  “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.”  Does that cause any anxiety in your heart?  Perhaps our faith has become too tame, too domesticated to generate a real threat to those who would be our enemies.  Perhaps the weapon of apathy does not warrant a defensive response.

Imagine what Sunday morning worship be like if we arrived as those who had been wounded in the spiritual battle.  There would be prayers of comfort, songs of confident praise, a message of courage and hope, mutual conversation and consolation among the faithful, and a meal of bread and wine – rations for the week ahead.

Our own Lutheran Church (ELCA), is losing more than 200 members EACH DAY.   This is a crisis of faith and evangelism; the wolves seem to be winning the numbers game.

So, fellow sheep, what are we called to do?  Prayer followed by action; songs followed by commitment, preaching that inspires and challenges; conversation that supports and encourages – these will be the marks of the flock who wander out among the wolves.  By the power of Jesus Christ, we will not fail.

Discussion Questions

  • How might a local parish refocus its ministry as “sheep among the wolves?”
  • Where do “the sheep” get fed and protected?
  • What is the scariest “wolf” in your world?
  • What “wolf” most threatens the ministry of the church?

Activity Suggestions

  • Role play an encounter with a “spiritual, but not religious” friend
  • Make a contract with the group to invite one person to worship next Sunday
  • Watch the first 10 minutes of the evening news and imagine how people of faith might react to the stories
  • Watch the following video on YouTube:

Closing Prayer

In the name of Jesus Christ we pray…Lord of Life, give us the courage to speak your word in a world of unbelief.  When we would rather “play it safe,” startle us to faith; when we get bored and apathetic, astonish us with grace; when we fear that we are too weak to confront the wolves, give us courage. Help us to be fed by your word this day.   Amen

May 20-27, 2009 – GM closes 1,100 dealerships

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

Warm-up Question: Share a time when something happened that was just not fair, that you had no control over. For instance, a car wreck, getting blamed for something you didn’t do, etc.

It seems all we hear about is news about the economy these days. When we hear all the news, we hope that somehow the biggest fallout will pass us by. We hope we will keep our jobs as long as we keep working hard, keep our heads down, and hang on. But for 1,100 Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler dealerships, suddenly they are no longer hanging on but have become a part of the growing statistic of pink-slipped people.

After filing for bankruptcy, Chrysler has been waiting for the results of the government’s plan to help the automaker recover. The decisions are not Chrysler’s, they can only wait and see what recommendations come through. The government put into place one recommendation asking for 1,100 dealerships to close by the end of the month. With the potential of 40,000 jobs lost, many people are in fear for their financial lives. The news comes in the mail this week via letter to the dealerships. Perhaps a mail carrier has never been watched more closely at a Chrysler dealership than on May 15.

Many men and women around the country are also watching their mailboxes, in-boxes, e-mail, and inter-office memos closely waiting to see if they are the next people cut in the continued need to trim budgets in a weakening economy. Tension runs high in many places as people worry, “will I be the next to receive the luck, or perhaps bad luck, of the draw?”

Discussion Questions

  • Do you know anyone who has lost a job or had to accept a cut in salary, pay, or work hours because of the economy? How are they dealing with the change?
  • What if this situation happened to you? How would you feel? Would you be angry? Frustrated? Relieved? What sort of changes do you think you or your family would need to make to cope?
  • Do you believe in luck? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think good things keep happening to some people and bad to others? Is there a greater design to it that some are given blessings and others are not — on purpose?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 24, 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.)

Gospel Reflection

Reading the Gospel lesson again, I am reminded that I have always felt bad for Barsabbas. I mean seriously, the poor guy is obviously someone who has followed Jesus for a long time if he is to be considered a choice to be apostle. He is named “Son of the Sabbath” which is a really cool name, and here he is passed over because he drew the short straw. Man, that just stinks for him. Now he is not an apostle simply because of luck?

Perhaps, but also perhaps the world spins on its own and God chooses moments to intersect the kingdom of heaven with the kingdom of earth in actions like healings, tremendous coincidences, visions, and prophecy, to name a few. We call them miracles because, well, they do not happen all the time, right? It seems that God does intervene sometimes, but not in others. How then does God choose when and how? Why are some healed and some not? Why do good things happen to some and others, well, seem to “draw the short straw”? What happens? Is it luck, a choice, or God’s action?

There is no perfect answer to this question, but we can take reassurance in one interesting thought: for every person healed or raised from the dead or freed from slavery, all of them still suffered the ultimate end, death. Yes, we glimpsed the kingdom when Lazarus was raised from the dead, but he eventually died anyway. Yes, Jairus’ daughter was raised from the dead and all wondered and praised God, but she died eventually too. I have known friends who have recovered from cancer and yet in their old age they still moved on into death. It seems that no matter what little thing befalls us in this life, the good and the ill, in the end we all have our ticket punched and none of us live forever. (Just ask Voldemort.)

How is this good news?

These glimpses of the kingdom, these tiny, infrequent moments, are not rewards for people who have been good or bad, they are signposts for what God wants to do in total. We can see that if God wants to raise one of these from the dead, this is a sign that God can do this for all of us. Ultimately we know this through Jesus who was raised from the dead so that while we know death we will not have fear. We are all blessed to receive the miracle of Jesus’ grace. For all that luck or blessing or miracle or curse or whatever we may call it on this side, in the end we are all victorious. We are all blessed. We are all given the gift of new life.

I am not sure I believe in luck. I am not even sure that God played a hand in picking Matthias over Barsabbas. Maybe it just was, for good or bad. Or maybe this was the hand of God in this small instance, a miracle, picking the right one for the job. I just don’t know. Instead, rather than seeing the small picture, I choose to see the big picture. Remember that we are all chosen, straws or not, to be God’s children. This isn’t luck. It’s a blessing.

 Or was it luck? It seems that the text wants us to consider that God had a hand in how this drama unfolded, that the true apostle would be picked by divine providence and the right one would become the apostle. But does God work this way? Is God really the one pulling all the little strings of every moment of every action?

Discussion Questions

  • How do you think it would have felt to be Barsabbas? What do you think you would have done? Been mad and left? Stuck around? Accepted the decision? Been bitter?
  • The good and the bad that happen to you… do you think they all come from God?Do you tend to call good things luck and bad things God — or vice versa? Why?
  • Is God is at work in every little thing? Why or why not? Do you think God works to bless some people in special ways? Do you think God tries to challenge, maybe you’d even say curse, others?
  • What do you think when you ask God for an A on a test, or a good job evaluation, or a faster solution to a problem and it doesn’t happen? Who do you blame? God? Do you think it’s life, luck, blessing, or curse?
  • What do we do when we pray for healing for someone and it doesn’t happen? Is this God? Life, luck, blessing, or curse? Does healing occur sometimes in a way that we don’t think of or ask for? How?


  • “We must believe in luck. For how else can we explain the success of those we don’t like?”  Jean Cocteau (1889-1963)
  • “It is bad luck to be superstitious.”  Andrew W. Mathis
  • “Luck favors the prepared, darling.”  Edna Mode in The Incredibles
  • “I have a lot of luck, it’s just not always good luck.”  Carter Terry
  • “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”  Seneca, Roman dramatist
  • “Shallow [people] believe in luck, believe in circumstances. Real [people] believe in cause and effect.”(ed. “men”)  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Activity Suggestion

Lucky Straw

This is a wishing game. It is a simple test, for good or ill. Everyone think of a hope for the coming week, a wish, so to speak. They can be as simple (“I want to be really happy”) or as complex (“I want to grow wings and shoot fireballs from my eyes”) as they wish, but it has to come true this week.

Give people a chance to consider their hope, then write it down on a slip of paper. Give everyone a few minutes to look at the slip of paper, concentrating really hard, REALLY wanting it to happen. Now throw all the slips of paper into a hat or container. Mix them all up telling them that whatever they draw out will come true. Have each person pull one out and read it out loud.


  • Do you think it is going to happen? Why or why not?
  • Is this a trustworthy process? Why or why not?
  • Come back the following week and discuss whether the wish came true. Why do you think it did or didn’t?
  • Do you think God or luck played a hand in this?

Closing Prayer

Holy God, for all the good and bad that comes in the world, I know that no matter what, you are our Father, and of you we will have hope that we will rest eternally in you. Thank you for whatever blessings we have been given, forgive us for ascribing good or ill to you that is not yours, and give us confidence to follow you, for good or ill. Amen.

November 26-December 3, 2008 – The bones of St. Andrew on tour

Warm-up Question: How do you want to be buried when you die?

Some of the human remains of Saint Andrew the Apostle, also named “the First-Called,” were brought to Riga, Latvia on October, 24th from Odessa under police escort. The bones of St. Andrew are priceless relics considered to be holy by the Orthodox Church (as well as the Roman Catholic Church).

The relics, housed or kept in what is called a reliquary, were on display in the Cathedral of Riga for only four days. Faithful Orthodox Christians from as far as hundreds of miles away made the journey in order to be near the bones of this venerated saint. Saint Andrew is considered by the Orthodox Church to be the apostle who brought the Christian faith to Russia and then further to the Baltic States. Saint Andrew is seen as the founding apostle for Orthodox Christianity (the Eastern Church) just as St. Peter serves that role for Roman Catholic Christianity (the Western Church).*

The relics of St. Andrew from Odessa represent only some of his earthly remains. His skull, for example, is kept in the cathedral in Patras, Greece, where it was returned in 1967 after having been removed in the year 1460. Some of the remains of St. Andrew were taken to Scotland where he was adopted as the patron saint of Scotland.

*Note: The Lutheran Church has its direct roots in the “Western Church.”

Discussion Questions

  • How many saints can the group name?
  • Where have you ever seen a painting or sculpture of a saint?
  • When have you ever seen a relic of a saint?
  • Would you go to a church where you knew there were going to be bones of a saint on display (even if they are in a box of some sort)? Why?

Information on Lutheran-Orthodox relations

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 30, 2008 (lessons for the Festival of the Apostle Andrew).
(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

Andrew the Apostle, or as he is called in the Orthodox Church, Andrew-the First Called. He is called that because that’s what he was: the first disciple called by Jesus, as we see from this lesson in the Gospel of John. And, no sooner than he had been asked to follow Jesus, he went and got his brother Peter to check this Jesus of Nazareth out, “we have seen the Messiah!” That’s certainly good news. Before Andrew even spends a few years following Jesus around, he is calling others to “come and see,” to come and experience this Jesus. Those first disciples spent lots of time and energy sharing with others the good news about Jesus the Messiah (the Anointed One, which is what the word “Christ” means).

The early Christian communities that got to experience those first real, living apostles were so blessed. They got to hear the story first hand from eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ. They felt so blessed by having these faithful witnesses among them that they cherished and respected everything about them: the scripture they may have used, the bishop’s staff they might have had, the chair they sat in to teach or preach, maybe even their clothes, and certainly their earthly remains — bones.

The bones of these holy followers of Christ were kept and guarded just as we respect our own beloved dead. The communities they served believed that these faithful witnesses were a living example of Christ among them. They felt close to Christ because of their presence. They believed that it was still true even after they died. That’s why the things and the remains of these holy men and women became so important for the early Church (we’re talking already in the 1st and 2nd centuries.)

This idea of holding sacred the remains of the saints (apostles, martyrs, teachers of the Church, etc.) is still practiced today in the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches, among others. During the time of the Reformation, visiting, touching, and praying in the presence of relics of the saints was believed to help knock off time in purgatory (which is like a kind of pre-heaven cleaning place with lots of pain and torture to get all the sins worked out before going to heaven). And because that practice got really corrupt in the years before Martin Luther was born, he had some reasons to critique it. And, he did — a lot!

Those of us in the Lutheran or Protestant traditions have been very strongly influenced and taught to see relics of the saints as bad things. We think about how they were abused in the middle ages to make money off of poor faithful Christians. And, many Christians were spending a lot of time praying to various deceased saints asking them to talk to God on their behalf.

Martin Luther and his reforms emphasized the fact that we do not need anyone else to speak on our behalf aside from Jesus Christ. The saints are there to serve as good examples and to inspire us and strengthen us in our faith in God through Jesus Christ. So, it is a good thing to know and tell the stories of the saints so that we are strengthened to be able to tell the great story of God’s love in Jesus.

Here are some details of the story that is told about Saint Andrew:

  • Andrew began his missionary activity in modern day Greece and Turkey. He then moved on further North into the area of Ukraine and Russia. He is known as the apostle to bring the Christian faith to those areas of the world.
  • His very recognizable symbol is an X-shaped cross. It is known as the St. Andrew’s cross because Andrew was crucified upside down on a cross made in that shape. It was believed that the X-shaped cross made dying last longer and more painful.
  • For a more detailed version of Andrew:
  • November 30th is the day on which St. Andrew the Apostle is commemorated in Churches all around the world.

Discussion Questions

  • What things, symbols, art, or music remind you to trust in God, stay strong in your faith, and tell others the good news of Jesus Christ?
  • Who in your life right now — even if they don’t know it — helps you stay strong in your faith and encourages you to live a life that reflects your faith? It can also be someone who is no longer alive.

Activity Suggestions

  • Leave nothing unsaid
    Send a post card, letter, or email to the person who inspires and encourages your faith. Let them know that they are a witness to you and others, and that you thank God for them.
  • Saints online
    Post photos or video clips on your congregation’s youth Web site (if you have one) or your Facebook page of the people who have been saints and witnesses of faith in your life. Do it as a way of honoring and thanking them, as well as spreading their story and witness.

Closing Prayer
(Prayer for the Festival of Apostle Andrew. Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 54.)

Almighty God, you gave your apostle Andrew the grace to obey the call of your Son and to bring his brother to Jesus. Give us also, who are called by your holy word, grace to follow Jesus without delay and to bring into his presence those who are near to us, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Contributed by Pastor Scott A. Moore
Eisleben, Germany