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Faith Lens

May 13-20, 2009 – A zillion friends and counting

Contributed by Rod G. Boriack
Chicago, IL

Warm-up Activity:Give each person a piece of paper and something to write with. In one minute, write down the names of as many of your friends as you can. Follow-up questions:

  • How many friends are on your list?
  • How did you decide on who to list as a friend when under the pressure of time?

When we use the word friend or friendship these days, it may not be so easy to describe what we mean. There are friends, and then there are FRIENDS. Social networking Web sites like FaceBook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, and others have stirred up our understanding of what it means to be a friend or to be part of a community. FaceBook alone claims the following statistics:

  • More than 200 million active users
  • More than 100 million users log on to FaceBook at least once each day
  • Average user has 120 friends on the site
  • More than 3.5 billion minutes are spent on Facebook each day (worldwide)
  • More than 25 million active user groups exist on the site
  • About 70% of Facebook users are outside the United States

Just for youth and young adults? Think again… it’s estimated that FaceBook has seen a 276% increase in 35-54 year-old users in the past 6 months.

Never in history has it been possible to have so many friends and to keep in touch with so many people worldwide!

Discussion Questions

  • How many of you have a FaceBook page or some other on-line social networking page?
  • How many friends do you have on your page?
  • What’s the best thing about being part of an on-line community? What are the limitations (if any)?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 17, 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 

In this chapter of John, Jesus spends some time trying to help his disciples understand what it means to be a friend, a follower, chosen by God — a disciple. It seems that he’s always trying to straighten them out. Love and friendship… what could be easier to understand?

It’s maybe not as simple as it seems though. In the Old Testament there’s a passage in Isaiah where God says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways.” In this week’s Gospel lesson, Jesus has something different in mind when he speaks of friends and love. He is thinking of a relationship that is deeper, more intense, and more committed than the disciples are accustomed to. Jesus is speaking of a friendship and love that is willing to sacrifice everything — including one’s life — for another person. It’s the kind of friendship and love that Jesus has for us.

Even today we struggle to really understand and accept the kind of friendship Jesus describes. We’re still unsure about what it means to follow Jesus’ example and what he is asking us to do. Maybe we even dig our feet in sometimes and say “there’s no way I’m gonna do that!” “Love my enemies or sacrifice my life for a friend — no way.”

But it is the way, and Jesus is asking us to make it our way.

Last fall, fast-food chain Burger King created the “Whopper Sacrifice” campaign, a FaceBook app that gave people a coupon for a free hamburger if they deleted 10 people from their friends list. The value worked out to trading each friend for about 37 cents worth of fast food. By the end of the promotion, people had deleted 233,906 friends from their FaceBook pages.

The marketing campaign is over, and the Whopper Sacrifice Web site now simply says: “In the end, your love for the Whopper Sandwich proved to be stronger than 233,906 friendships.” “Were you sacrificed by somebody? Send them an Angry-Gram…”

We can shrug it off as just advertising; it’s no big deal. On the other hand, what does it say about who we are and how we love each other?

Discussion Questions

  • How would you describe the differences between how Jesus describes a friend and how we might describe a friend? How are our descriptions similar? What about our descriptions of love?
  • What stands in the way of our considering every human being as a friend? As a neighbor? In today’s world — 2009 –what helps us connect with each other in ways that are respectful, caring, understanding, and even loving?
  • How does God move us closer to each other through the sacrifice and example of Jesus?

Activity Suggestions

  • Get in touch with a friend who you haven’t talked to or connected with in awhile. Tell them of your care and concern for them, and that you haven’t forgotten them.
  • Use your social networking or on-line community page to mention the kind of love that God has for us. Encourage your friends to take the risk of living and loving like Jesus… post each other’s ideas of what it involves. Offer each other encouragement that also reflects forgiveness and patience.

Closing Prayer

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son. Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred that infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in love; and, through our struggle and confusion, work to accomplish your purposes on earth; so that, in your good time, every people and nation may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

(Prayer for the human family, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 79.)

January 14-21, 2009 – Paris Hilton “New Best Friend Forever”

Warm-up Question: What is the best compliment anyone has ever paid you?

It has been six weeks now since fashion designer, actor, singer, and producer Paris Hilton found a new BFF (Best Friend Forever) in the person of Brittany Flickinger. Over a span of 10 weeks this fall, MTV gave Paris Hilton and 16 women and 2 men the chance to get to know each other in the hopes of creating a true and lasting bond of friendship. With travel and challenges galore, these 18 diligent and ambitious fame-seekers woo, claw, and worked their way into Paris’ heart.

In the end, Brittany proved her honest motives and her good intentions, and was rewarded with the offer of friendship from arguably one of the most famous people on the planet. One of the first things Brittany got to do was join Paris and her other best friends, sister, and aunt at a “slumber party.”

Will this best friendship last? Will Brittany still be around in a year? Or, will Paris Hilton call MTV again with the plea to stage another search for her next Best Friend Forever?

Discussion Questions

  • Do you think Paris Hilton will really find her “new best friend”?
  • What characteristics do you think are essential to be a friend of yours?
  • What is the difference between a friend, a good friend, and a best friend?
  • Based on the above criteria, how many friends, good friends, and best friends do you have?
  • What do you do to strengthen the ties of your friendships?
  • When have you ever lost a good or best friend? What caused the break up?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, January 18, 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

The Calling of Philip and Nathanael (Bartholomew)

Jesus is on the march to find his new best friends (John 15:15). In the Gospel of John, he starts out with Andrew and another disciple of John the Baptist. Andrew goes and gets his brother Simon Peter. The next day, Jesus heads to Galilee and finds Philip who goes with Jesus after he simply says, “follow me.” Philip finds Nathanael, and in his excitement, tells Nathanael that they have found the one that Moses and the Prophets of the Old Testament wrote about — Jesus. Nathanael doubts that Jesus is really the promised one, and lets his cynicism be known by his stinging, smearing reply, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Ouch! Philip can only answer Nathanael with, “come and see.” (The same answer Jesus gives the other disciples in the earlier story in John’s gospel.)

Upon seeing Nathanael, Jesus looks right into his very being and identifies him as “an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile.” (Guile means deceit or treachery.) Jesus can tell by just looking at him that Nathanael is honest and true. Nathanael is stunned that Jesus can tell all that just by looking at him. Jesus says he saw him sitting under a fig tree before Philip called him, as if that makes it any easier to know what type of person Nathanael is. Nathanael returns the favor and identifies Jesus for who he really is, the King of Israel and the Son of God. Jesus promises Nathanael that he will see even greater things than just Jesus knowing the character of a person by looking at him.

There are lots compliments between these new-found friends in this scene, but none of them seem to be superficial flattery. Nathanael and Jesus see each other for who they really are: an honest man with doubts and a good Israelite, and the Son of God and King of Israel. It’s a good beginning to their relationship as rabbi and disciple.

The two of them, Jesus and Nathanael, set a good example for us in the way they honestly share the positive things that they see in each other. Nathanael was suspicious and reluctant to trust at first because of where Jesus grew up, but he was willing to overcome his prejudice against people from Nazareth when he met Jesus face-to-face.

This story sets us up, as readers, for the chapters that follow in which John, the Gospel writer, describes to us the many signs of Jesus’ power. These signs are only one part of who Jesus is. Yes, he can heal the sick, change water into wine, and tell people their life stories, but it’s only small stuff compared to what Jesus is really about. Jesus is God — in the flesh. Jesus has come to call the entire world to himself. Jesus’ greatest desire is that we all know him as our best friend. He is the kind of friend that has the greatest kind of love for us; the kind of love in which he sacrifices his own life for us. This is a reality show worth being a part of!

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think is necessary for people to get to know Jesus as a friend?
  • How do you talk about your friend Jesus to your other friends?
  • Looking at your criteria above for your friends, good friends, and best friends, what is it about Jesus that shows him to be a friend? Or, would he not make your list?
  • How do you spend quality time with your friend Jesus?
  • How do you strengthen your friendship with Jesus?

Activity Suggestions

  • Check out an episode of the series Paris Hilton’s My New BFF and invite critique and discussion from the participants.
  • Write a card to your best friend describing three things you like and value about him or her.
  • Write a card to various staff members or volunteers of your church (pastor, organist, janitor, Sunday school teacher, office manager, usher, committee member, etc.) with what you like or appreciate about what they do in service to the congregation and community.
  • Sing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #742.

Closing Prayer

Gracious and ever-loving God, you have loved us from the beginning of time before the creation of world. You have also seen our need to connect to you in ways that are very human. Thank you for answering that need by sending your Son, Jesus, to be our friend. Strengthen our walk of friendship with him and with all your creation. Grant us the courage to give all of ourselves to all your friends in need. We ask this through that same Jesus Christ, our Lord and friend. Amen.

Contributed by Pastor Scott A. Moore
Eisleben, Germany