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May13, 2012–Who is Your Friend?

Contributed by Seth Moland-Kovash, Palatine, IL


Warm-up Question

Do you have someone whom you consider a close friend?

Who is Your Friend

A recent article in the May issue of The Atlantic cites research saying that, despite social media networks that keep us more connected to one another than ever before, we are really lonelier than ever. More important, this loneliness has real effects on our mental and physical health. The article is entitled “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” It cites a recent study that says up to 20% of Americans are unhappy with their lives because of loneliness.

Interestingly, the article also cites a German study about the effect of belief in God on loneliness. “Active believers who saw God as abstract and helpful rather than as a wrathful, immediate presence were less lonely.” While Lutherans might argue about the abstract part of this sentence, the core of Lutheran belief is that God is helpful (merciful) rather than wrathful.

Being physically alone and feeling lonely are not the same thing. And every person has their own priorities and needs related to alone time and personal connection. But each one of us does have a need to have connection. It seems that those connections are becoming harder and harder to make in our world.

 Discussion Questions

  • What does it mean to be lonely? How would you define loneliness?
  • What are the ideal traits that would make someone a close friend? Is it about trust, shared interests, personality traits?


Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 13, 2012 (Sixth Sunday of Easter)

Acts 10:44-48

1 John 5:1-6

John 15:9-17

(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

Jesus says that his disciples are friends. While he was speaking historically to a few select people a couple thousand years ago, we believe that he is also speaking to us. “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”

Jesus calls us friends based on some shared understanding of what God is doing in the world. Because we know that God is in the world saving lives and restoring all of creation to wholeness, we are Jesus’ friends. That’s a very privileged position. It raises our status and our sense of what it means to be the church. We aren’t just a group of followers; we aren’t just a group of people who believe some things… we are Jesus’ friends.

Discussion Questions

  • Read the words to the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship #742. What are the good things about having Jesus as a friend? Do you feel you have those things in your life?
  • When Jesus calls us friends, does that come with obligations in addition to benefits? What might some of those obligations be?

Activity Suggestions

  • One aspect of loneliness is the feeling of being bullied and marginalized. Create an anti-bullying pledge for your group and your lives. Publicize it within your church or school or community.
  • Visit members of your church or community in the nursing home. Play a game with them, or talk about memories. Show them that you are their friend.

Closing Prayer

Good and gracious God, we thank you for sending Jesus to be our friend. Help us to feel that community and to live into the community that Jesus has created.  Amen.

June 1-7, 2011–Take It to the Lord in Prayer

Contributed by Dennis Sepper, University Pastor, Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA


Warm-up Question

How many friends have you checked in on today by text, Facebook or cell phone?

An Unexpected Message…

A couple of months ago and email showed up in my inbox.  When I opened the email, the message read, “Are you the Pastor Dennis Sepper who lived in Cincinnati?”  It was from the former organist of the church I served there.  I have to admit that it felt good to know someone was thinking of me and searching for me on the web.  That unexpected email led to a renewed connection with someone I cared about but our paths just led to different places and we lost touch.

About a month ago the student congregation at my school received a postcard from a group called the Gideons (these are the folks who leave Bibles in hotels and who may handout small New Testaments at your school or church).  The postcard stated that the local Gideon chapter prayed for our church’s mission and ministry by name and they wished us well.  The students of the congregation were touched to think that the Gideons would care enough that they would remember them by name in prayer.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever received a message or a Facebook friend request from someone that you didn’t expect?  How did it make you feel?
  • Has anyone told you that they prayed for you by name?  If so, how does knowing that fact affect your day or your life?  Does it give you more energy?  Does it make you more hopeful?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, June 5, 2011 (Seventh Sunday of Easter)

Acts 1:6-14

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

John 17:1-11

(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

As you may have noticed, our Gospel this week is really a prayer.  It is a prayer spoken by Jesus, directed to God, right after Jesus had eaten this last meal with the disciples and right before the passion and crucifixion of Jesus begins.  Also, you may have noted that Jesus uses the word “glory” quite a few times in this prayer.  You should know that in the Gospel John whenever the “glory” of Jesus is mentioned it is a reference not only to the resurrection of Jesus and his ascension to heaven, but it also includes Jesus’ suffering and death.  In John’s view the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension is how Jesus is glorified and how Jesus gives glory to God.  There is no way our experience can be the same as Jesus’ but we know what it means when, to experience a success, we have to work hard to achieve it.  Sometimes we have to “suffer” for a greater good.  As Christians we are a resurrection people but we walk the way of the cross.

In this final prayer, Jesus’ character is revealed and it is consistent with what he has shown throughout his life.  Jesus prays that God be glorified (verses 1-6), he then moves on to pray for the disciples (verses 6-19) and then Jesus prays for us! (See verses 20-27 which are not a part of our text this week but it’s only fair to look at the whole prayer of Jesus.)

What Jesus asks for in this prayer is that the close relationship that God and Jesus have that this closeness might now include the disciples and the Church throughout the world and throughout the centuries.  What is more, Jesus wants us to experience the love that God has for Jesus and Jesus has for us and Jesus asks God to

Prayer is a truly amazing thing.  God has given us the privilege to talk to God directly anytime we want or need to pray.  We don’t have to address God with special words, we don’t have to pray through a pastor or anyone else and there are no special rituals we have to perform to get God’s attention.  Our prayer can be as simple as saying “God, I need you.”  Prayer is one of the ways we stay connected to God.  Like texting or using Facebook to stay connected to our friends, prayer is how we stay connected to God.

Think about this: Jesus knows he is headed to his suffering and death and yet Jesus takes the time to pray for his disciples, who will deny and abandon him, and Jesus takes the time to pray for us.  Like that person who sent me an email or like the Gideon folks praying for the students at my school, it is a little bit of unexpected grace that Jesus prays for us that we might experience the love of God and Jesus and share that love with others!

Discussion Questions

  • How do you view prayer?  Do you see it as a privilege or as an obligation?  Why do you feel that way?  Do you see your personal prayer as an informal conversation with God or as a formal thing?
  • What do you think about the fact that just before his suffering and death Jesus prayed for his disciples and us?
  • Do you pray often or only when you need something from God?
  • If prayer is difficult, what would make prayer easier for you?

Activity Suggestions

Think of someone who might be surprised to hear from you.  It could be a grandparent or a distant relative or a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while.  Then write a note, ask to be their friend on Facebook, or text them and let them know you are thinking about them.  Better yet, let them know that you have prayed for them.  If that unexpected grace feels good for you, imagine how it will make them feel.

Closing Prayer

Abba, our heavenly Father, you are indeed worthy of our praise and worship.  We thank you for Jesus who was so loving that he prayed for us before his suffering and death.  By your Holy Spirit help us to glorify you in word and deed as we walk the way of the cross following Jesus.  Help us to love one another, along with the stranger, that all the world might know your love.  To you be the glory and the honor forever and ever.  Amen.

May 19-25, 2010–An (Increasingly) Open Book

Contributed by Daniel Wiessner, Tacoma, WA

Warm-up Question

To whom do you turn when you’re not sure what to do?

An (Increasingly) Open Book

Turns out everyone’s Facebook privacy is getting a lot less private all the time and, unsurprisingly, a few feathers are getting ruffled.

Ryan Singel at Wired noted the private interests which are unavoidably public via Facebook. He wrote, “I’d like to make my friend list private. Cannot. I’d like to have my profile visible only to my friends, not my boss. Cannot. I’d like to support an anti-abortion group without my mother or the world knowing. Cannot.”

The recent addition of Facebook’s new “instant personalization” is getting particular attention due to its sharing of your personal information with Pandora, Microsoft Docs, and Yelp, in order to help those sites tailor their advertisements to fit your interests. Users can opt out, but the process is apparently complicated and confusing. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), among other organizations, is rallying against Facebook with claims that “Instant personalization violates user expectations and reveals user information without the user’s consent.”

Mark Zuckerberg, the guy who started this crazy Facebook thing, stated earlier this year that  Facebook is constantly being updated “to reflect what the current social norms are.  A lot of companies would be trapped by the conventions and their legacies of what they’ve built… doing a privacy change for 350 million users is not the kind of thing that a lot of companies would do. … But we viewed that as a really important thing, to always keep a beginner’s mind and what would we do if we were starting the company now and we decided that these would be the social norms now and we just went for it.”

Main article from:
Wired quote from:
Zuckerberg quote from:

Discussion Questions

  • Are you on Facebook? (Show of hands, for curiosity’s sake.)
  • How do you feel about these privacy changes? Does it really matter to you?
  • Some people argue that Facebook is causing these shifts in social norms that Zuckerberg spoke about. Do you agree with Zuckerberg (that Facebook is just following the trend) or do you think that it is a driving force in the change? Why?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 23, 2010 (Day of Pentecost)

 Acts 2:1-21

Romans 8:14-17

John 14:8-17 [25-27]

(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

I’m afraid I can’t “tsk” Philip too harshly for his opening line in this week’s gospel lesson because, really, he and I have something in common here: We don’t always pay attention so well. Fortunately for the both of us, we have been blessed to hold the company of some very kind and very patient people who are willing to explain things to us again and again.

If you remember, Jesus is going to be leaving his disciples, Philip included.  Reading the rest of John 14 reveals pretty clearly that the disciples are uncomfortable with the idea. The disciples general response is “But-but-but.. Wait! Where are you going? We feel kind of low on definite instructions. Is there any way we could maybe text you if we have questions?”

Jesus calmly and patiently reassures his disciples that things are going to work out just fine. In fact, he even leaves them a number to call, so to speak, in case they get confused. Jesus promises another advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will “teach [them] everything, and remind [them] of all that [Jesus has] said to [them].”

In the same way, by reminding us of Jesus’s teachings and instructions, The Holy Spirit acts as our own divine guide. This is a great gift when our easily confused moral compass might mistake North for East.

With this promise of the “Spirit of truth,” Jesus closes this week’s lesson with some of the most wonderful, calming words we could ever hear from our Lord and Savior. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Amen, Lord Jesus.

Discussion Questions

  • Go back and explore the rest of John 14. Think about how the disciples felt before and after this week’s Gospel lesson. What do you think your reaction would have been?
  • Looking back at the news for today, do you think that Zuckerberg’s moral compass is confused? Or is the Facebook privacy issue a moral issue at all? Explain.


Activity Suggestions

Texting Treasure Hunt:

In this exercise, there is one leader and a group of hunters. (For youth groups, I recommend there be an adult leader acting as the “leader” as well as another adult leader in the group of “hunters.”) The leader of this exercise must know the surrounding area well. To assist in delivering accurate directions, it may be helpful for the hunters to have  a GPS-enabled phone  while the leader tracks them via Google Latitude or a similar service.

The leader tells the group of hunters that he or she will be waiting for them somewhere nearby before suddenly leaving them. The hunters then petition text messages from the leader in order to help find their way. The leader may be as cryptic or simple as he or she desires.

After the hunters find the leader, they should explore how they felt during the exercise. Was it unnerving to be unaware of where they were headed? Was it reassuring to know that they could ask and receive directions whenever they needed it?

Closing Prayer

Dearest Jesus, thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide us along your pathways. Thank you for the reassurance you give us every day, through the remembrance of your great sacrifice, that we need never let our hearts be troubled. Amen.

March 3-9, 2010

Contributed by Jennifer Krausz,  Bethlehem, Pa.

Warm-up Question

Have you ever posted anything negative about anyone on the internet? What was the reaction or the result?

Student Suspended for Facebook Posting

Justin Bird of Oak Forest, Illinois was suspended from the high school where he is a sophomore for posting a Facebook fan page against his teacher, in which he made a derogatory remark about her.

He has had problems with the teacher since the beginning of the school year at Oak Forest High School, where he is a high honors student. He created the Facebook fan page on February 9.  It was active for five days before he took it down on February 14, gaining about 50 fans but no postings other than his. The page was “for anyone who has had a bad experience or just plain dislikes” the teacher.

The day after he took the page down he was called into the dean’s office and suspended. His parents are considering legal action against the school because they say the page was created entirely at home and not at school. They question whether a school has the right to suspend a student for actions taken outside of school. No threats of any kind were made against the teacher.

Recently, the federal courts ruled that a Florida student could sue her school to remove a 2007 suspension from her record because of a negative Facebook post against her teacher. The judge ruled that Facebook posts made outside of school time and property fall under the umbrella of free speech.

Discussion Questions

1. Have you ever had a teacher that you just clashed with from the beginning? How did you handle the situation?

2. Do you think a school should have the right to punish a student for something done outside of school time and off school property?

3. What do you think the school should do about students who post derogatory comments about teachers on social networking sites?

4. How would you feel if you were a teacher and negative comments were posted against you on the internet?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, March 7, 2010 (Third Sunday in Lent)


Isaiah 55:1-9

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Luke 13:1-9

(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

So many times Jesus shows refreshing common sense. In a world where common sense often seems lacking, especially among the powerful who set up the rules we live by, Jesus sets everyone straight about what is really important. Or at least, he tries.

The religious leaders of the time had rules about everything:  How you had to wash before you ate, touched other people, came to the temple, or cooked food.  How you prayed, how you made sacrifices, and of course, what work you were allowed to do (or not do) on the Sabbath. There were more than 600 different rules which governed every part of their lives.

The problem, as Jesus saw it, was that these rules were getting in the way of doing what God really wants. He wants people to look at their hearts.  Instead they just looked at the rules and whether everyone else was following them. In a sense, the rules were taking the place of having a real, personal relationship with God. When Jesus said, “Repent,” it was really a call for the religious leaders to look at their hearts, turn to God, and realize that loving and serving other people is more important than following hundreds of laws.

Sometimes we can technically follow all the rules, but our hearts are nowhere near where they should be. We may be full of resentment about the rules, or we may feel that we are better than other people because we followed the rules and they didn’t. Jesus knows that our hearts need to be focused on loving God and loving our neighbors. When our hearts are in the right place, we will be more likely to do the right things for the right reasons.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you follow the rules even when they don’t seem to make sense? Why or why not?
  • If Justin Bird met Jesus face-to-face, how do you think their conversation about his teacher and the Facebook postings would go?
  • What rules or laws would not be necessary in our society today if everyone focused their hearts on loving God and loving their neighbors as themselves?
  • When you attend church, are you more concerned with following all the rules and procedures or on focusing your heart toward loving God and others? How do you think your congregation would change if everyone focused more on loving God and others and less on following its own written and unwritten rules?

Activity Suggestions

  • Many people have a negative view of the church today because they think it has too many rules to follow. (It is interesting how, even with Jesus and his example of not letting the rules get in the way, humanity tends to go in that direction eventually) Brainstorm some ways that your congregation can go out into your community and show people outside the church that you are more focused on loving each other and them than on following the rules.  (Note: Even though you aren’t going to focus on the rules, this exercise is not about law-breaking or immoral behavior.)  For example, you might go into a busy area and give away bottles of water, or cups of coffee, just to be nice and serve the community. Many congregations have attracted new members and helped people come to faith in Jesus by showing them love, rather than emphasizing rules. 
  • This could be very controversial.  As a group, talk about the written or unwritten rules in your congregation. Are there any that get in the way of knowing and loving God?  Do any hinder members from loving those inside and outside the church?Set a time to talk with your pastor or a member of church council (or the governing body of the congregation). The goal of this meeting is not to attack the rules or the leadership. First, ask questions about why the rules exist and what their purpose might be. The group may learn that the rules have a good purpose and can help rather than hurt. Very gently, share the group’s lesson from today and your concern over the rules the group listed. Listen to what the pastor or leader has to say and ask him or her to consider the group’s concerns.The purpose here is to foster understanding and share possible concerns, not to make trouble or necessarily change anything.

Closing Prayer

God of love, we pray that our hearts will ever seek to know you better. Help us follow your two greatest commandments, to love you and love our neighbors as ourselves. May our actions be pleasing to you as we follow in your ways and, when the world looks at your church and the people in it, may it see your love rather than burdensome rules.  We pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

September 9-16, 2009 – Michael Jackson is alive!

Contributed by Rod G. Boriack
Chicago, IL

Warm-up Question:  Have you ever spread some ‘news’ about someone or something only to discover later that it wasn’t exactly true? What was the not-so-true truth you helped spread?  

gossip150The King of Pop Michael Jackson… still alive? Who wouldn’t read a little more or stay tuned to find out more, even as crazy as it sounds.

Rumors, stories, online video clips, photos, blogs, so-called proof and eye witnesses, and entire Web sites refuting Jackson’s death have been popping up since the moment we the tragic news this past June 25th. Shades of the King of Rock ‘n Roll, Elvis Presley, who some people say is still alive and well.

Among the latest rumors being spread online is that of a video of Jackson supposedly hopping out the back of the coroner’s van. Nearly 2 million people have viewed the video clip online even though it it’s not very clear and doesn’t show the person’s face or the licence plate number of the coroner’s van.

Other stories and claims of Jackson’s being alive have include an odd assortment of photos, witnesses, theories, and “evidence” of Jackson crossing the border into Mexico, Jackson lounging poolside chatting with friends, faking his death to escape financial problems, hiding out in a bunker to escape the public, and secretly working for the CIA with other supposedly deceased celebrities.  

On the flip side of life, there have also been many instances of false stories or rumors of celebrity deaths spread via social networking sites and user-generated news communities. In almost every instance, the rumored dead celebrity just happened to still be alive to refute the rumors being spread. News — true or not — has never traveled so quickly as it has online, in news communities, or via cell phone techn0logy.

As the no-longer-living (1835-1910) humorist and writer Mark Twain put it, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”  In today’s world, Twain’s comments might have included debunking Tweets, text messages, and viral videos.

Michael Jackson’s burial took place on Thursday, September 3.

Discussion Questions

  • OK, just to clear the air, who among you believes Michael Jackson is really dead? (raise hands) Who believes he could still be alive? (raise hands) On what do you base your belief or opinion?
  • Who do you trust most when it comes to getting news or information about what’s going on with friends, your school, the community, the world? Are you ever curious enough to check out the facts for yourself, even when your trusted sources have given you the scoop? Why?
  • What would be the fastest way to start a rumor or story? If someone spread an untrue or confusing rumor about you, how would you fight it or persuade people to accept your word and truth?  How might the stories or inaccuracies effect your life in not-so positive ways?
  • We consider ourselves to be relatively smart and thoughtful human beings, as creatures go. Why then, no matter how wild or inaccurate the rumor or conspiracy theory, are there always people willing to believe or follow? (e.g., believing the earth is flat or that all the moon landings were faked.)  What might people be looking for, questioning, or hoping for?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, 13, 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.

Scripture Reflection

“Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.”  (Mark 8:27-30)

Don’t tell anyone about me? What’s up with that?

And what about in James? “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters…” (James 3:1) The writer’s not much of a career coach or recruiter. He goes on to say how easy it is to mess up what we say or how we speak to others.

Words are very powerful things, as are the many other ways we communicate with lightening-fast speed in today’s world. In a few seconds, minutes, or hours you can spread news, your opinions, or misinformation — with photos and video — worldwide. What a gift we have (truly)! In Jesus’ day, spreading the word to a very small local area would have been measured in days (very speedy), months (still speedy), years (pretty fast), or even centuries. Think about it… the printing press wasn’t even around until almost 1,500 years later. The camera? 1,800 years later. Internet for the general public? Try almost 2,000 years after Jesus spoke to Peter!

And with this wonderful, technological ability to communicate instantly comes great responsibility. More responsibility than ever before in history.

The messages in Mark and James aren’t meant to shut us down, shut us up, or turn the good news of God’s love for us into a secret. They do, however, say something about how important the gospel is, and how important it is to live, act, and speak in ways that are consistent with our faith and the gospel. We don’t have to be perfect about it — as humans, we can’t be — but we do need to be careful, thoughtful, and responsible with what we say and do because our witness will travel instantly far and wide. And there will be people who will listen, watch, and believe.

The gospel message is important. Studying the Bible, prayer, taking in the witness of others, and talking with each other are all important in developing a deeper sense of what God is doing in the world and what we need to share freely with everyone around us.

Taking this responsibility seriously, what will you say? How will you say it? 

Discussion Questions

  • Imagine that Jesus turned to you right now and asked, “Who do you say that I am?” How would you answer him?
  • Who have you been reluctant to share your faith with? What holds you back or discourages you? When is it difficult to find the “right” words or actions? When do words and actions of faith flow most freely for you?
  • We all have unique gifts and personalities, including in how we communicate with others and express ourselves. How do you prefer or feel best equipped to communicate with others? (Including different media and artistic means. E.g., public speaking, talking with others one-on-one, photography, music, using social networking sites, being quiet and sensitive, advocacy, drawing, Web design, video, listening, physical work, talking on the phone, email, writing, etc.)

Activity Suggestion

Make a list of what you believe are important truths or beliefs of the Christian faith. Do the same for our Lutheran faith tradition. Emphasize that Lutherans are Christians. Create the lists side-by-side. You can also do this in small groups and then bring the lists together to compare and discuss them.

  • What are the relationships and connections between the two lists?
  • How can these lists guide you in sharing your faith?
  • What do you have questions about, want to learn more about, or would love to have some “lively” discussions about? (You could do this as a group by going down each item on the lists and moving along a continuum line from one side of the room to the other, by a show of hands, etc.)

Closing Prayer

By your word, eternal God, your creation sprang forth, and we were given the breath of life. By your word, eternal God, death is overcome, Christ is raised form the tomb, and we are given new life in the power of your Spirit. May we boldly proclaim this good news in our words and our actions, rejoicing always in your powerful presence; through Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. Amen.

(Prayer for “Spread of the gospel,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 75.)