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April 29, 2012–Feeling a Little Sheepish

Contributed by Aaron Matson, location Toronto, SD


Warm-up Questions

What do you know about sheep and shepherds? What images and thoughts come to mind when you hear those words?

Feeling a Little Sheepish

The images of God (and Jesus) as a good shepherd and God’s people as sheep are fairly common in the Bible. Because sheep and shepherds were so common in the ancient world, this imagery painted a vivid picture of God’s relationship with God’s people to the early audiences of the Bible.

Because sheep and shepherds aren’t a large part of our culture, we can have a hard time understanding what it means to say we are sheep and that Jesus is our good shepherd. Maybe the only image of sheep you have is of cute, fluffy creatures which you count when you can’t sleep. Maybe you think shepherding would be a nice, peaceful life, watching cute creatures do cute things.

The thing is, sheep are smelly, stubborn animals and shepherding is a dirty, hard job.  Sheep are herd animals, and unquestioningly follow the herd where it goes. They are easily influenced, and “led astray” by a dominant member of the herd. They hate being sheared, even though it’s necessary for their own health. Shepherding means shearing the sheep, even though they hate it.  If their wool gets too heavy, they fall over, can not get back up, and eventually die.  Left unguarded they are easy prey for predators.  Sheep require constant attention and care–or they wander off, get into food that is bad for them, and fall victim to wolves or coyotes.


Discussion Questions

  • How do you feel about being called a sheep now?
  • What does it mean to be called a sheep?
  • What does it mean to call Jesus a shepherd?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 29, 2012 (Fourth Sunday of Easter)

 Acts 4:5-12

1 John 3:16-24

John 10:11-18

(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

After learning about sheep, we might not like being called sheep very much. But we can be like sheep sometimes, can’t we? We can be pretty stubborn. We can follow along with the rest of the “herd” without question, whether or not the herd is going the right way. We often resist doing the things that are good for us if they seem unpleasant. Without people who care for us, we may fall into doing things that are bad for us and fall victim to predators who take advantage of us. We are too much like sheep for comfort.

The good news is that we have a Good Shepherd in Jesus Christ to watch over us and protect us. Jesus loved us, his sheep, so much that he gave up his life for us on the cross, and then rose again to conquer death for us once and for all.  

And we, who have been made the Good Shepherd’s sheep, recognize our shepherd’s voice. There is a lot of static and noise in the world. There are a lot of distractions, worries, and troubles, and a lot of other voices which shout at us to gain our attention and loyalty. There are a lot of things in the world which try to be our shepherd. But we have the promise from Jesus that through all of the noise we will know his voice. Not because we are smart enough, pure enough, or good enough to tell which voice is his, but because Jesus is our shepherd.

In those times when you are lost (and I’m sorry to say, there will be times in your life, when no matter how much love and support you are surrounded by, you will be truly lost), remember that you are the sheep of a Good Shepherd. We are the sheep of a shepherd who loves us, no matter how stubborn or smelly we are, or how lost we are.   Our shepherd isl always  with us, calling to us, offering us peace, forgiveness, and new life. Nothing–not heights nor depths, not despair or heartbreak, not angels or demons, not even death itself—can separate you from the love of your Good Shepherd.

Discussion Questions

  •  What are some of those voices that compete for our attention and want us to follow them instead of Jesus?
  •  How can we help each other listen for our Shepherd’s voice?

Activity Suggestions

  • See how many references you can find in the Bible to God or Jesus as a “shepherd” and the people as “sheep.”
  • Look at your congregation’s hymnals and see how many hymns talk about us as “sheep” and God or Jesus as a “shepherd.” If possible, sing one of them.
  • Invite someone who raises sheep to come and speak to your group about what it’s like to raise sheep. If a member of your group has experience raising sheep, have them talk about it. If you can’t find someone who raises sheep, it might also work to invite someone who raises other kinds of livestock to talk about how much time and effort it takes.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Good Shepherd. Continue to guide us so that we might not go astray, and watch over us and protect us from all harm and evil. Help us to show your love and care to others, that all may know you as their Good Shepherd. Amen.

November 10-16, 2010–Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Contributed by Jocelyn Breeland, Fairfax, VA

Warm-up Question

Have you ever found yourself in a tough situation with  no good choices?

Between a Rock and a Hard Place recently reported the suicides of Nejla Akkoc, 71, and her 31-year-old daughter Ayshe who were found dead in their White Plains home.  Ayshe had cerebral palsy and needed a wheelchair.  Nejla, Ayshe’s sole care giver, had recently learned she had terminal cancer.  A note the pair left indicated it had become increasingly difficult for Nejla to care for her daughter, so the two decided to leave the world together.

The challenge of older parents caring for their children with disabilities is not uncommon.  Nationwide, 62 percent of people with disabilities live with family members; more than 700,000 of them live with parents or family members over the age of 60. At the same time, state budget cuts have made it more difficult for families to find services for their loved ones with disabilities.

In Indiana, families report that state workers have suggested they leave people with severe disabilities at homeless shelters.  A spokesman for the Family and Social Services Administration said this is not state policy and the individuals who made this suggestion have been disciplined.

Still, the situation is critical for families in a state where waiting lists for disability services contain more than 20,000 names.  Some of those on the list have been waiting more than 10 years, and 2,000 slots were eliminated in the most recent round of state budget cuts.  A similar story is playing out in just about every state.

“It’s heart-wrenching,as a parent, to watch it.  We are people and they are people,” said one parent, speaking of her son and others with disabilities.  “They have lives that are worth something.”

Discussion Questions

  • Put yourself in Nejla and Ayshe Akkoc’s place.  What emotions do you think they felt?
  • A common observation by those who work to prevent suicide is that “suicide is a permanent solution for a temporary problem.”  What might make someone believe suicide is the best of several bad options?  Do you think suicide can ever the best choice in times of crisis?
  • Most of Nejla and Ayshe’s family lived in Turkey.  What role might separation from family have played in their feelings about their situation?
  • What resources can Christian faith and community offer to people in situations like the Akkocs’?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 14, 2010 (Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost)

Malachi 4:1-2a

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Luke 21:5-19

(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

The Jews of Jesus’ time could be forgiven if they thought that after the coming of the promised Messiah things would get much better, both in the immediate future and for the long-term. In today’s gospel Jesus tells his hearers that not only is the end not coming right away, but there are going to be countless trials before that time.  Jesus anticipates many terrors: wars between nations, natural disasters, persecution in the synagogues, and even division within families.

With nearly 2,000 years of hindsight, we can certainly say these predictions have come true, and we have to expect that these trials will continue throughout our lifetimes.  But despite the certainty of persecution and even death, Jesus does not want us to despair.  “But not a hair of your head will perish,” he says.  “By standing firm you will gain life.”

No matter how difficult a situation, or how limited our choices, we know that Jesus is with us.  In the face of every hardship and disaster, Jesus’ promise of eternal life remains.  He is always with us; in the end, his victory is sure. Knowing this makes our hard choices easier.

Discussion Questions

  • Who are the deceivers Jesus refers to in verse 8?
  • Do you think knowing that difficulties are inevitable makes it easier to accept and cope with problems when they arise?
  • What challenges do you face which are most difficult for you?  How does today’s gospel lesson speak to those challenges?

Activity Suggestion

Sometimes God’s answer to a desperate prayer is us.  Scan your local newspaper for stories of individuals and families faced with difficult choices and consider two questions:

  • How is your congregation already engaged in supporting those who face the difficult choices noted in the stories?
  • Are there specific ways you, your youth group, or congregation might be help those in these situations?

Offer a prayer, lifting up, by name, the persons mentioned  in the stories you identified.  Ask for God’s intervention in each situation and for the willingness and wisdom to be part of that intervention.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for the many blessings you offer us every day.  When times are tough, help us to remember your steadfast promise of eternal life.  Give us the wisdom and strength to always choose your will, your way.  In the name of your son, Jesus Christ, our rock and our deliverer.  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 10-16, 2010

Contributed by Joycelyn Breeland, Fairfax, VA.




Warm-up Question

How much do the adults in your life trust you?

I Spy


The FBI is investigating the claim of 16-year-old Blake Robbins that his high school illegally spied on him using the webcam in his school-issued computer.

Robbins says his school’s assistant principal accused him of selling drugs and popping pills in his bedroom. He says she backed up the accusation with a photograph taken by the laptop’s built-in webcam.  Blake denies dealing or using illicit drugs.  He says the images show him eating candy. 

The Lower Merion School District issued laptop computers, equipped with webcams, to all of the approximately 2,300 high school students in the district.  School officials deny any wrong doing.  They say they are not spying on students and only activate the webcams to help locate missing laptops.


Discussion Questions

  • Is it OK for the school district to use webcams to locate school property?
  • Why would it be a problem for the school to activate the webcams on laptops they own?
  • Does it matter how the school got the evidence if Robbins was engaged in illegal activity?


Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, March 14, 2010 (Fourth Sunday in Lent)

(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.

Joshua 5:9-12

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Gospel Reflection

Today’s Gospel is a well-known story. The generous father reminds us that God’s love is extravagant to the point of seeming  reckless.  We go astray.  But no matter how far we go, how unworthy our behavior, God longs to welcome us back into the fold. 

The waiting father models how we are called to behave toward each other.  We pray, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” but our forgiveness is often grudging.  In contrast, the father clearly yearns to welcome his son back home.  He sees the boy while he is far away and runs to him.  The son can not even get out his well-rehearsed apology before the party is on.  Following the father’s example, we strive to forgive absolutely, rejoicing at the restoration of a relationship with someone who has wronged us. 

Sometimes we are like the younger son, striking out on our own, overly confident in our abilities.  We forget how much we need the father.  This inevitably leads to trouble.  When that happens, we, like the prodigal, need to remember that our father is merciful and compassionate.  No matter how far we go down destructive paths, we can find our way home.  Mistakes are painful and costly.  Our poor decisions cause a lot of suffering. The certainty of God’s care is no excuse for failing to weigh our choices carefully.  Still, when we find ourselves staring at a dead end, Jesus reminds us that the long journey we begin with repentance in the pig sty ends with a welcome, a ring, and a fatted calf.

Discussion Questions

  • If the father in the story represents God, what is the inheritance we might each expect? 
  • The family in today’s Gospel is clearly wealthy.  What could have motivated the son to leave this comfort in the first place? 
  • Verse 17 says the younger son came to his senses.  What does this mean?  Has this happened to you? 
  • Can you identify with the older son’s reaction in verses 28 ­– 30? 
  • What does the father’s answer to his older son say to us about God’s love?

 Activity Suggestion

Design a t-shirt which communicates your understanding of this week’s lesson.  Think beyond simply picturing a scene from the biblical story.  Use words and graphics which would grab the attention of folks in your school.

Closing Prayer

Loving and forgiving Father God, we thank you for the rich inheritance you offer each of us.  Help us not to squander your gifts, remembering that all we have and are comes from you.  Call to us when we stray and bring us quickly back to our senses.  In the name of Jesus, whose sacrifice has secured for us eternal life and a home with you, Amen.


January 20-26, 2010 – Some Trips Don’t Go as Planned

Contributed by Stephanie Opsal, West Des Moines


Have you ever felt hesitant to trust someone or something?




(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File, Yahoo Inc. Dec 23, 2009)

 A Nevada couple traveling home from Portland, Oregon faced an unpleasant surprise on their drive Christmas Day.  Their SUV’s handy GPS calculated their route based on the shortest distance, and they trusted it without factoring in current weather conditions.  John Rhoads and Starry Bush-Rhoads followed their navigation system south until the GPS guided them down Forest Service Road 28 near the town of Silver Lake.  Thirty-five miles down this remote road, they plowed ahead and got stuck in about a foot and a half of snow.

 After two and a half days, the couple was finally able to get a weak signal on their cell phone and reached a county sheriff.  Ironically, they had a GPS-enabled phone which sent their location to 911.  A Lake County deputy was able to tow their Toyota Sequoia out of the Winema-Fremont National Forest with a winch.  Both John and Starry made it home to Reno, Nevada safely.

 Fortunately, the Rhoads were well-prepared for their winter trek, carrying lots of warm clothes, food, water, and supplies.  With these goods, they managed the weekend in the snowy car without severe injury.  They realized that although their hi-tech GPS gave them direction, it was not foolproof and not to be relied on alone.


  • What electronic or technological devices do you use every day?
  • How would your life be different if you did not have any of those electronics or if an important device suddenly stopped working properly?  (For example, if your computer or phone stopped working or the electricity went out in the winter).
  • How might you put too much faith in these things?  (For example, a girl saved a bunch of pictures on her computer without also saving them to a memory card or disc, and she lost them when her computer crashed).
  • Have you ever gotten stuck in a snow storm?  What did you do?


SCRIPTURE TEXTS (NRSV) FOR SUNDAY, JANUARY 24, 2010 (3rd Sunday after Epiphany)

(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.

             Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

            1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

            Luke 4:14-21


The word “epiphany” means “to show”, “to make known”, or “to reveal.”   The Church celebrates the season of Epiphany remembering the Wise Men’s gifts to the newborn Christ child.  However, this event is much more than gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  The Wise Men or Magi were the first Gentiles to accept Jesus as Lord and King and, therefore, the first to “reveal” Jesus as the Christ to the world.  This holds huge significance.  The Wise Men “showed” that Jesus came not only for the Jews or a few chosen people, but also for all nations and races.  This is the first hint that Jesus would fulfill all that the Scriptures had prophesied.

 On the Third Sunday after Epiphany, our Gospel tells about Jesus reading Scripture in the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth.  He reads from the prophet Isaiah,

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
      because he has anointed me
      to preach good news to the poor.
   He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
      and recovery of sight for the blind,
   to release the oppressed,
      to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

 The Spirit of God is within Him as He speaks, and people stand amazed at the familiar things He is preaching.  Although they had probably heard this reading many times, this time it was different.  Jesus announced that this prophecy from years ago had been fulfilled on that very day.  As Christ stood in Nazareth that day he did much more than merely read the Scripture.  He began doing what it said: preaching good news to the poor and lowly, setting all people free, teaching the way to true life, giving sight to the blind and life to the broken.  He did all to “show” the glory of God and His presence there with them.  Jesus was a bright epiphany to those gathered in Nazareth, because He embodied the living truth of the Scriptures and proclaimed that God was with them.

 You too can place our hope in Jesus.  Hebrews 13:8 announces, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”  Jesus will never break His promise to be there for you always.  He gives the only true plan and direction for your life which will never fail you. 

 All of our worldly guides, such as the Rhoad couple’s imperfect GPS or TV messages, can be faulty and lead us to stray onto a troubled path.  We dare not put all our trust in any material device in this world; these things were created by imperfect humans.  Thankfully, Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins makes us pure again and reconnects us to God.  God is faithful, listening to our every prayer and forgiving all our sins.  We can always trust Him to save us, fulfill His biblical promises to us, and guide our lives toward our final destination in heaven with Him.



  • What things about your day-to-day life show that you are a Christian?
  • How can you “make known” to others the truth that Jesus Christ is the Savior and Lord?  What are some ways that your actions or attitude could portray the love of Jesus?
  • Has anyone ever broken a promise to you?  Did that hurt you?  Have you ever broken a promise to anyone?
  • Have you ever felt hopeless?  How did you improve the situation?  When things went wrong, how did you find hope in Jesus?
  • God keeps every promise that He makes to us in the Bible.  What are some of God’s promises to us?



  • Brainstorm ideas of ways to show Jesus to your friends or to the community.  Even simple things, (such as smiling, forgiving, making cards, and helping even when you don’t get a reward for it), cause you to act like Christ and, therefore, show His presence to your neighbors.  Follow through with one of your ideas in the next week and let your group know how it goes.
  • Play a game with a Magic 8-Ball: Make a small group of people and take turns asking the Magic 8-Ball some important yes-or-no questions about your life.  Write down your responses.  Afterward, discuss how crazy your life would be if you believed all those answers and followed through with them, rather than trusting God’s guidance and promises for your life.

(If you don’t have a Magic 8-Ball, you could simply write “yes” and “no” on a bunch of little pieces of paper and draw them out of a bowl on each turn).


 Lord Jesus, thank you for revealing yourself to us in this 2010 season of Epiphany.  Help us to trust that you will lead each of us down paths which will not leave us stuck or broken.  Your will is perfect and pleasing, and we rejoice because you never break your promises.  Give us the strength to read more of your Word and a hunger to know you more, so we may, in turn, show your powerful, saving love to others.  Prepare our hearts to follow you alone, and grant that, rather than judging them, we may pray for those who do not yet know you.  Amen.