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October 27-November 2, 2010–Searching for the Truth

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

Warm-up Question

How do know if something is true?

Searching for the Truth

With the November 2 election drawing near, if you are anything like me, you are tired of the political ads on TV, on the web, and in print.  We all may be at the point where we do not listen to them anymore.  In addition many of us simply do not trust the truth of claims made by one candidate against another.  Stretching the truth, quoting out of context, and old fashion mudslinging now seem to be the norm of every election cycle.  How can we tell if a candidate is telling the truth?  One way is to visit websites like , a project of the University of Pennsylvania which follows political commercials and, as the title says, checks the facts to make sure candidates are telling the truth.

But we must also consider that we live in a time when some scholars and philosophers tell us that truth might no longer be “objective” and thus true for all.  They argue that more and more truth is defined by a community of people.   Maybe that is why, in a survey done is August of this year, nearly 1 in 5 Americans said that President Barack Obama is a Muslim, even though during his campaign there was a large controversy over a statement made by his Christian pastor in Chicago and he has on more than one occasion stated the fact that he is a Christian.  There simply exists a certain community of people in our country for whom believing the President is Muslim is a true fact and they cannot be persuaded differently.

Also, with advances in computer software, one can now edit a picture, cutting and pasting from other pictures so to make a new compilation which looks “real.”  When it comes to truth we can’t even trust our eyes anymore.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever questioned the truth of a statement made by a political candidate or other adult?
  • What do you think about the idea that truth is defined by a community of people and is not “objective” and true for all?
  • Have you ever been fooled by a Photoshopped picture?  How did it make you feel when you found out the photo was not true?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, October 31, 2010 (Reformation Day)

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Romans 3:19-28

John 8:31-36

(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 Reformation Day Gospel text comes from a section of John’s Gospel where Jesus is in a series of controversies with the religious leaders of his time.  In this particular section the religious leaders are questioning the divine commissioning of Jesus.  Jesus argues that he and God are one and that his life, words, and teachings come from God and are true.  The religious leaders believe that authority and truth come from the Torah (the first five books of the Bible, which contain the law).

In our text Jesus challenges us to think about truth in another way.  Jesus states, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples.”  What Jesus is talking about is continuing in a relationship to Jesus.  In John’s gospel our relationship to Jesus is of prime importance.  As we abide in Jesus and Jesus abides in us, we know the truth of the Gospel (see John 15:7 where John uses the same image) and that truth is what sets us free.  We seek the truth by staying in a close relationship to Jesus and as we continue in Jesus, the Holy Spirit reveals the truth to us.

The truth of the gospel that led Martin Luther to reform the church came from his relationship to the living Jesus.  All his life Luther knew “about” God and the God Luther knew was an angry God.  Luther could find no grace, no peace.  Then, while working on a lecture series on Romans, as he was reading and studying Romans 3, the Spirit opened Luther’s eyes and heart and mind—the gospel truth touched Luther in a new way.  Luther’s relationship to Jesus caused him to see the Bible in a new way.  Luther discovered the truth and the truth set Luther free.

It isn’t what we know “about” God that sets us free, it is our faith, our trusting relationship with Jesus that sets us free and saves us.  The truth is Jesus.

Discussion Questions

  • Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines truth as “the body of real things, events, and facts; a judgment, proposition, or idea that is true or accepted a true.”  Do you agree with this definition?  What does the word “truth” mean to you?
  • Can there be “truth” without evidence, facts, or proof?  If so, how do we then know if that something is true?  Could it be that it is something that works in our lives and in our living?  In our relationships to others?
  • On most Sundays in worship we recite the Apostles’ or Nicene Creeds.  These are summaries of what we hold to be true about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  However, which comes first, our relationship with Jesus and God that causes us to speak the creeds, or the creeds that teach us the truth about God in an objective way?
  • How do we nurture our relationship to Jesus and keep it strong and alive?

Activity Suggestions

  • Since this is Reformation Day, you might want to be prepared to share a brief biography of Martin Luther.  You could especially highlight the freedom Luther experienced when the truth set him free.
  • We usually think of truth the way Webster’s Dictionary defines it above, as a series of facts or propositions.  Jesus speaks of truth as a relationship with him and God.  Using an online Bible Concordance or search engine look up “truth” and see how Jesus uses the word in other parts of the Gospels.  To get you started, here are some passages in the Gospel of John 1:14-17; 4:23-24; 14:6; 14:15-17.  What is the nature of the truth Jesus speaks in these passages?

Closing Prayer

Gracious and loving God, your Servant Jesus said that he is the way and the truth and the life.  May we always abide in Jesus and Jesus in us, that we might be faithful disciples of Jesus following wherever he may lead us.  Keep us in your truth that we might enjoy the abundant life you promise.  In your Holy Name we pray.  Amen

September 30-October 7, 2009 – Lutherans pass new Social Statement, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust”

Contributed by Pastor Jay McDivitt
Denver, CO

day-of-dead-wedding200Warm-up Question:  Do you dream about getting married someday? What do you think about when you think about marriage?

In its Churchwide Assembly in August, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America amended and adopted its tenth Social Statement in a close vote of the two-thirds required to pass. Social Statements are documents that guide ELCA Lutherans on responding to and discussing important social issues.

The new statement, entitled “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” attempts to provide a distinctly Lutheran approach to a wide array of issues related to human sexuality, including marriage, family, sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment, sex education, promiscuity, and clergy sexual abuse.

While most of the media coverage surrounds the controversial treatment of life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships (about which the statement affirms a wide range of differences of conviction among members of the church), most of the statement addresses in bold language many issues about which Lutherans agree, including the primary role of marriage in providing the “necessary social support and social trust for relationships,” and “a context of love, trust, honesty, and commitment within which a couple can express the profound joy of relationship as well as address the troubles they encounter throughout life.” (“Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” page 9)

With this statement, the ELCA continues a long-held Lutheran tradition of holding marriage in high esteem, expressing deep sorrow at the prevalence of divorce, and the desire to urge couples “cohabitating” (living together) outside of marriage to seek the public accountability and commitment that comes with marriage. In a culture in which divorce rates hover around 50%, this statement seeks to speak a strong word against this trend and strives to reduce the number of marriages that end in divorce.

Discussion Questions

[Be attentive, sensitive, and respectful of the many family and life experiences that youth in the group may have experienced or are in the midst of working through.]

  1. How many of the youth in your church come from families that have experienced divorce? How many of your friends at school have dealt with divorce in their families? How do you feel about those numbers?
  2. Why do you think so many marriages end in divorce? What happens in families when divorce occurs?
  3. How can the church help reduce the number of marriages that experience divorce? If you decide to get married someday, how do you want the church to help you stay married?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, October 4, 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.

Gospel Reflection

This is one of the hardest teachings of Jesus. Especially when so many of our families have experienced divorce, it is hard to hear Jesus condemning divorce and remarriage in such clear and direct terms. On the surface, it seems that Jesus is saying that divorce is never appropriate — or, at the very least, remarriage is adultery — because it pulls apart a union that God joined together. Ask any pastor, and she or he will probably tell you that this is one of the Sundays when they would prefer to be on vacation!

As always, it is important to understand the culture in which Jesus lived in order to understand what Jesus is teaching. In the laws of Jesus’ religious community, divorce was relatively easy to accomplish — if you were a man. Men could dismiss their wives for virtually any reason, including simple jealousy. In that day, adult women who were unmarried, whether by being widowed or divorced — were very vulnerable. They had limited social status and few options. Many ended up poor and destitute, relying on begging or other undesirable means to get enough food to survive.

It is in this culture that Jesus chooses to “tighten” the commandments about marriage. In a world where women could be left destitute by the whim of a male-initiated divorce, Jesus condemns divorce and commands men and women to stay married, or else fall into the sin of adultery. This is hard to hear, especially for families who have experienced divorce, but in the interest of protecting against vulnerability and poverty for a growing number of women, Jesus’ commandment can be heard as good news.

It is interesting that Mark chose to connect this teaching about divorce to the next section, where Jesus blesses the children. Children were also considered vulnerable members of society; some scholars even call them the most “unimportant” members of culture until they were old enough to ensure the future of the family name and fortune. Could it be that Mark is connecting these teachings to make a point? Jesus, in changing the rules about divorce and remarriage, is doing something similar to what he does when he blesses children: He is providing for the safety, honor, and livelihood of the most vulnerable members of society.

The ELCA Social Statement on Human Sexuality makes this connection as well. “Lutherans understand that intimacy, trust, and safety, particularly for the most vulnerable, are best sheltered within families” (page 12). This is why this church does not favor cohabitation outside of marriage — because without commitment, couples can create situations where people, especially children, can be left more vulnerable and unprotected outside of the public accountability that comes with marriage. Examples of public accountability could include things such as child support and visitation, fair division of property and money, access to public assistance and resources, etc. [It’s not forgotten that a marriage, wedding, or public commitment does not guarantee a perfect relationship or some sort of special insurance against abuse, injustice, conflict, or vulnerability.]

It seems that in this teaching, Jesus is affirming the commitment of the church to care for and encourage strong families and healthy relationships in order to protect the most vulnerable and to provide a place where love and trust can flourish.

Although this church understands that there are many legitimate reasons for marriages to end in divorce — precisely because some marriages are so marked with sin and abuse that people are made more vulnerable by staying in them than by getting a divorce — we stand with Jesus in affirming the gift and promise of marriage, as well as the good news that God desires to care for, bless, and support the most vulnerable among us, especially children.

Discussion Questions

  1. How is family a blessing to you in your life? How is being a part of a family difficult? In your own experience, how do you define or describe family? (Intergenerational, single parent, step siblings or parents, grandparents, extended family members, friends who are considered family, living under one roof, sp[reads across many miles or between several households, etc.)
  2. What are some reasons people give for getting a divorce? Which reasons make sense to you? Which don’t?
  3. If Jesus were around today, what do you think he would say about the reasons people give for getting a divorce? How would he “bless the children” in the context of a culture with such a high divorce rate?

Activity Suggestions

Plan a wedding

Spend some time thinking about what you would want to do for a marriage celebration, should you choose to get married. Have fun planning a reception, a guest list, a first dance, etc., but also spend time thinking about the ceremony itself.

  • When will you know it’s a good time to get married?
  • What experiences or rituals do feel are important for you to have as part of the ceremony?
  • What vows would you like to say to the person you are marrying?
  • What readings would you pick?
  • Who would you want to be involved?

If you don’t believe you are going to get married, talk about why not.

  • How would you want to be a part of other people’s families?
  • How could you help raise children and support the gift of family?
  • How will you support and encourage the relationships of your friends?
  • What other kinds of family and community will you be a part of in your adult life?

[You may want to have some wedding magazines available, although be prepared to talk about some of the more troubling commercial aspects of the wedding business. You’ll probably want to have copies of the marriage service in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 286]


Look through the Social Statement on Human Sexuality together
Also check out:

This will require preparation on the part of the leaders, but could yield a very interesting conversation. Ask questions like:

  • What do you see here? What don’t you see?
  • What do you agree with? What do you disagree with?  (FAQs on Bound Conscience)
  • What is confusing?
  • What are you thankful for that is being talked about in public as a church?
  • Do you think it’s important for Christians to talk together about sex? Why or why not?
  • What other aspects of human sexuality and relationships do we need to be talking about (in your opinion)?

Be prepared for a lively, respectful conversation, especially if you use the youth Web site resource.

Closing Prayer

Good and gracious God, thank you for the gifts of family, love, trust, and mercy. Help us to strengthen and honor the families you have given us. Forgive us and our family members when we break promises and hurt each other. Give us your grace and mercy, always. Amen.