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April 14, 2013–The Power of Not Saying Sorry

Contributed by Jay McDivitt, Thiensville, WI


Warm-up Question

Think of a time when you did and a time when you did not apologize for something you did wrong. How does it feel to say you’re sorry? How does it feel not to?

The Power of Not Saying Sorry

shutterstock_10860583editResearchers Tyler Okimoto, Michael Wenzel, and Kyli Hendrick recently reported on a study they did about the effects of apologizing – or not. Their findings were very interesting.  Apologizing often does make someone feel better. However, choosing not to apologize also makes a person feel better – and, often, better than they would have felt had they apologized.

Why? Because: “When you refuse to apologize, it actually makes you feel more empowered,” Okimoto said in an interview with NPR. “That power and control seems to translate into greater feelings of self-worth.”  This research reveals something powerful about human psychology and the power of being in control. It also might help us understand how we might better approach folks who we believe need to apologize. When we force people to apologize (as we often do with children), it makes them feel like they don’t have any power or self-control, that they are not in control of their choices. A forced apology is usually not very heartfelt and, thus, not meaningful.  Love and support, on the other hand, may lead folks to more freely and meaningfully apologize because they can work to heal a relationship without the threatening feelings of being forced.


Discussion Questions

  • What do you think? When have you been forced to apologize? (“Say you’re sorry…or else!”) How does that feel?
  • When you know you’ve done something wrong, what does it take to get you to say you’re sorry?
  • When someone apologizes to you, can you tell whether they mean it or not? What difference does it make?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 14, 2013 (Third Sunday of Easter)

Acts 9:1-20

Revelation 5:11-14

John 21:1-19

(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

At the end of this gospel story, Jesus pulls Peter aside for a private conversation. He asks him three times, “Do you love me?” And each time, when Peter replies that he does love Jesus, the risen Christ says (again, three times): “Feed/tend my lambs/sheep.” Then Jesus explains to Peter that if he decides to follow through on this command to tend the flock, life for Peter will be challenging and dangerous. He will not be in control of his own life. He will suffer. He will die before he is ready.

Letting that sink in for a moment, then Jesus invites Peter to “follow me.” What’s going on here?  Remember that not long ago Peter was given the opportunity to show his love for Jesus by publicly claiming to belong to him. Three times, as Jesus was on trial and being prepared for death, Peter was asked if he knew and followed Jesus. Three times, Peter denied it. He let his fear get the better of him.  Jesus died without the solace of knowing that one of his closest friends would be there for him when the road became difficult. Peter felt terrible about what he had done. Terrible times three.

Imagine, then, how Peter was feeling when all of a sudden Jesus shows up by the seaside. Imagine the guilt and shame churning in his stomach when Jesus pulls him aside for a private chat. He expected a reprimand; he deserved harsh judgment. What he got instead was another chance to be in loving relationship with Jesus. Another chance to share in his ministry. Another chance to be a disciple. Another chance to show that Jesus was worthy of love.

Instead of judgment, he received grace and a purpose. Three times.  And so it is with the rest of us. We show up to church with any number of reasons to feel guilty or ashamed. We have much to confess. We deny our love for Jesus as we give our love and allegiance to popularity, prosperity, success, politics… you name it.

What we get from Jesus is not judgment but love. He feeds us – and then calls us into a life of feeding others. He gives us chance after chance after chance to start over and slowly learn how to follow, how to love, how to live and die for something bigger than ourselves or our fears.  And thanks be to God for that. Amen.

Discussion Questions

  • Why didn’t Jesus give Peter a “firm talking to”? Why didn’t he make him apologize? If you were Jesus, what would you want to say to Peter about what happened before, when he denied knowing you and left you alone when you needed him most?
  • What happens next in Peter’s life is really quite remarkable. He lives a life of faithful discipleship, claiming the Name of Jesus, and he is killed for it. What gave him the strength to do that when before he was too weak or fearful to acknowledge even knowing Jesus?
  • When have you deserved to be judged or forced to apologize? When have you been forgiven, whether you apologized or not?

Activity Suggestions

Write a letter to someone you have hurt or wronged. Write another letter to someone who has hurt or wronged you. (These letters can remain private; you don’t have to send them or share them with anyone.) If you could say whatever you wanted to that person, what would it be? Do you want to be forgiven? Do you want to forgive? Do you want to have a relationship with this person, or are you happy to just move on? What would it take to be back into a relationship as friends, family, or whatever?

When your letters are done, talk together as a group about what you wrote. Without sharing names or details, what feelings did you put into it? What actions would be a part of healing this relationship? How much of your letter was judgment, and how much was grace?

(Note: I don’t expect anyone to be totally full of grace and forgiveness and love all the time. That’s Jesus’ job. Thankfully he’s a lot better at it than most of us. The point is simply to explore the power of saying sorry—or not—and  the energy and work it takes to be in relationship with people when getting hurt is always a real possibility.)

Closing Prayer

Risen Christ, you are full of love—for me, for us, and for everyone. How do you do that? It is amazing that you could be so gracious and kind with people who really don’t deserve it. Thank you for loving us, in spite of all our faults, and teach us to slowly begin to learn from you how to love and forgive. Amen.


July 21-27, 2010–Debts Forgiven

Contributed by Jay McDivitt, Grace Lutheran Church, Thiensville, WI

Warm-up Question

Have you ever owed someone something? Has anyone every owed you? How does it change a relationship when people owe each other?

Debts Forgiven

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank agreed on June 29 to back $4.6 billion in debt relief for the country of Liberia. On June 30, Haiti received word that they had fulfilled obligations under the “Heavily Indebted Poor Countries” (HIPC)  program, and $1.2 billion in debt has been forgiven there.

For years, churches (including the ELCA) and other groups have urged wealthy countries and international banks to forgive debts that cripple the economies of emerging/developing nations. Large debts, often built up by oppressive past regimes, saddle countries like Haiti, Liberia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and others, with large interest payments. In Honduras, for example, an estimated 12.3% of the total value of exports goes to service the interest payments on their $5.1 billion in debts.

Debt relief in Liberia frees up resources to rebuild the country from years of conflict; in Haiti, forgiven debt frees up $20 million in interest payments for 2010 alone, which will help that country rebuild after the horrific January 12 earthquake.

Although there has been some progress on debt relief in recent years, there are still many heavily indebted poor countries in the world. In Haiti, for example, the $1.2 billion that was just forgiven is just over half of what they owe – the country still has $1.051 billion in outstanding debt.

Under HIPC, indebted countries have to show that they are creating stable economic growth and establishing sustainable programs to reduce poverty. Several nations continue to work toward these goals and having their debts reduced or forgiven. Activists and churches continue to work with them and to lobby wealthy governments and banks to make faster progress on eliminating these heavy debt loads.

For further information consult these sources:



Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think churches such as the ELCA are interested in forgiving poorer countries’ debts? Can you think of a reason why not to forgive debt?
  • Do you know anyone who has had a debt forgiven?   (Currently, there are lots of people attempting to renegotiate mortgage or credit card debt.)  How would it feel to have a debt canceled?
  • How much do you know about things like debt and interest?  How much do you talk at home about finances – savings, mortgage, charity, credit cards, etc?  Why is it important to know about things like that?  Who could teach you?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, July 20, 2010 (Ninth Sunday after Pentecost)

Genesis 18:20-32

Colossians 2:6-15 [16-17]

Luke 11:1-13

(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

You probably noticed that the version of the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus taught the disciples that day is a little different from the one you normally pray during worship. (There’s a long reason for that; ask your pastor about it sometime!) It’s also a bit different from the other place where Jesus teaches people how to pray (Matthew 6:9-13 – check it out). One interesting place where they differ is in the part about forgiveness:

            Matthew: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

            Luke: “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.”

 Debt was a big deal in Jesus’ day. It was very easy to fall into debt – crop failure, bad business, death of a husband/father – and very hard to get out of it. When you owed someone something, that gave them control over your life and your future – which was, of course, a huge distraction. More than that, it could lead to becoming a slave or prisoner. It’s not surprising, then, that one of the first things that happened when some Jews in Jerusalem attempted to overthrow the Romans was to burn all the records of debts.

It’s interesting that Luke uses “sins” instead of “debts” in his version of Jesus’ prayer – but when talking about our relationship to others, they both agree that forgiving debt is the primary way that we practice forgiveness with our neighbors. There may be many reasons for that – here’s one guess:

Since God gives us daily bread – whether we deserve it or not – it is strange to think about us “owing” God, at least not the way we “owe” the bank or our neighbor. God gives and gives – and we could never begin to pay it back. Instead, God asks that we live our lives in a loving relationship with God and with our neighbors.

 Unfortunately, we aren’t always good at loving God or our neighbors. That’s sin – a broken relationship with God and others. And in this prayer, we ask God to heal that relationship – to forgive the ways that we fail to respond lovingly to God’s grace.

And when that relationship is healed, it puts our other relationships into perspective.  We realize that we have a role to play in helping clear the way for people to be in relationship with God. One of the biggest distractions that get in the way of our relationship to God and each other is debt,  both literal debt and all the other ways we make people depend on something or someone other than God (grudges, revenge, unhealthy or abusive relationships, and on and on).

So sin (broken relationships) and debt (belonging to someone other than God because of what we owe) are connected. God can’t heal our broken relationship with God if we’re spending all our energy and time owing and owning each other. And so we pray for the strength to cancel debt – to forgive each other and free each other to be in a relationship with God.

 The writer of Colossians got this, too. To a community that fought about all kinds of silly stuff, the writer tells them to remember who’s really in charge – and what really matters: “God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses,  erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross” (vv 13b-14). In Jesus, all debts are forgiven. All the records of sin and broken relationships have been erased by God’s grace – so we are free to set aside all our own grudges and debts and broken histories with each other. And thanks be to God for that.

Discussion Questions

  • How would you describe the connection between “sin” and “debt”?  How does the meaning of the prayer change when we take the word “debt” out of the version of the Lord’s Prayer we pray in church?
  • What would happen if everyone stopped owing other people anything? How would relationships change if no one had any debts?
  • Tell a story about a time you’ve been forgiven – by a parent, teacher, friend, sibling, or someone else. What does it feel like to be forgiven?
  • Tell a story about a time you’ve forgiven someone else. What does that feel like?

Activity Suggestions

  • Check out Find the countries listed on that website on a map/globe. Pray for those countries. Use the resources on the website to write letters to government or bank leaders asking for debt relief. Put together a poster or some other project to help educate folks at church about debt relief. (For ELCA resources, check out:
  • Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper. On one side, write the things you “owe” other people (real debt, things you’ve done to hurt people, etc). On the other side, write the things that other people “owe” you (debts, grudges, payback for helping them out, etc). Nail them to a cross, or pile them up and burn them. Or – add them to a stack of copies of credit card bills or mortgage statements, and run them all through the shredder.

Closing Prayer

God in heaven, your Name is Holy. Build up your power among us, and take us where you want us to go.  Thank you for feeding us  day by day with all that we need – and for forgiving us for all the ways we break your heart by giving our allegiance to people and things other than you.  Help us to forgive people for anything and everything they owe us, and keep our feet on the path of mercy and grace.  Everything we are, and everything we have, belongs to you, O God, forever and ever. Amen.

October 28-November 4, 2009 – Signs of the times

Contributed by Pastor Seth Moland-Kovash
All Saints Lutheran Church
Palatine, IL

Warm-up Question:  How easy do you find it to forgive a friend when something bad happens that is clearly their fault?

surgeons200Finding fault and placing blame are things that all people do. Somehow it just seems to make us feel better when we can place the blame for someone on someone’s shoulders. Of course, it only serves to make us feel comfortable if we can place the blame on someone else’s shoulders. There are times when placing blame isn’t just a matter of words, but of serious consequences: sometimes thousands or millions of dollars, or other punishments.

One way that this happens is through medical malpractice lawsuits. A doctor or hospital can be sued for malpractice if a mistake is made in treating a patient or something is overlooked that should have been seen or treated.

One current proposal that is part of the debate on the healthcare system as a whole is to limit the amount of money that could be awarded to patients or families in malpractice cases. Called “tort reform,” one proposal would limit the amount of money that people could win to $500,000 for punitive damages and $250,000 for “pain and suffering.” The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this change would save the government $54 billion over the next 10 years.

Some say that the legal awards need to be limited to be reasonable and to cut the costs that doctors have to pay for malpractice insurance. Others say that there is no amount of money that should be considered too great for the family of someone who has died because of malpractice. 

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think? Should there be a limit on the amount of money that a doctor or hospital would have to pay in a malpractice case?
  2. If someone you loved died because of a clear case of malpractice, how much money do you think would be a fair punishment?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 1, 2009 (All Saints Day).

(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.

Gospel Reflection

Lazarus was dead. He was dead and buried and in the tomb. Jesus was late. The emergency message had been sent, but Jesus wasn’t there at the right time. Mary (Lazarus’ sister) said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” What do you think that she felt Jesus could have done? Whether she was right or not, she felt that Lazarus would not have died if Jesus had gotten there in time. Perhaps there was a hint of blame in her statement.

Where is God when it hurts? Why doesn’t God seem to be around to help me now like he helped all those people in the Bible? These are common questions that come to our minds when something bad happens. We want to know where God was and why God let that thing happen. In this story, we see that people even during the Bible times had the same experiences. Mary wanted to know why Jesus hadn’t gotten there in time. She wanted to know why this bad thing had to happen to her family. She was in pain.

And Jesus had healing for her pain. It wasn’t like anything she could have imagined. She imagined that, if Jesus had been able to get there before Lazarus died, then Jesus could have healed him. But once he was dead, Mary thought that was the end of the story.

Today, on All Saints Sunday, we remember again that death is not the end of the story for any of God’s saints. Your grandmothers and grandfathers, any of God’s children who have died, are alive again. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Nothing can separate us from God’s love; not even death (Romans 8:37-39).

Discussion Questions

  1. Tell about a time you were in pain and wondered whether God was even there.
  2. Have you seen signs that God is there in painful times? What do those signs look like? (Hint: Look at the other people in the room… they may be the signs for you)

Activity Suggestion

Create an “All Saints” remembrance with your youth group. Bring a memento or photo that makes you think of someone who has died. Tell your friends about that person. Say, “I am thankful to God for ________ because __________.”

Closing Prayer

Good and gracious God, we thank you for all the saints you have given us who have shown us your love and your mercy. Help us to continue to live as your faithful children until the day when we are reunited with all your saints. Amen.

(Or use the prayer for the “Rememberance of the faithful departed” found on page 82 of Evangelical Lutheran Worship.)