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April 24, 2016–Last Wishes

Brian Hiortdahl, Overland Park, KS


Warm-up Question

If you knew you had only a short time to live and were granted one last wish, what would it be?

Last Wishes

shutterstock_363528029Five year old Chen Xiaotian was diagnosed with brain cancer within months of his mother learning that she had uremia.  After two years, both conditions worsened.  Chen, 7, knowing he would die, was aware that his kidney might save his mother.  He pleaded with her to let him save her life.  Two hours after Chen’s death, his mother received his kidney.  Two other persons benefited from Chen’s gift of life.  His other kidney was transplanted to a 21-year old woman and a 26-year old man received Chen’s liver.

For further information:  video    news story

Discussion Questions

  • How does this story make you feel?
  • Would you want to be an organ donor?  Why or why not?
  • Can you think of other examples where something good came out of tragedy?

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 11:1-18

Revelation 21:1-6

John 13:31-35

(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

Jesus, knowing he will die, shares one final evening with his disciples.  He begins by washing their feet (despite initial resistance from Peter) and sharing bread with his betrayer.  After doing this, he states his dying wish as a new commandment:  Love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.

Later that same evening, after repeating this commandment (15:12), Jesus elaborates:  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends (15:13).  Like Chen, Jesus sees life for others coming from his death.  On this night in the other gospels, Jesus institutes his supper of Holy Communion—his life continuing to live inside his disciples’ bodies, giving them new strength.

This is how Jesus is “glorified.”  For him, glory does not come from fame or riches or popularity or success or adulation.  It comes through death.  He does not receive glory in, but radiates it out through the love his disciples show and share, following his lead.  His final wish is not anything for himself, but for the ongoing blessing of others.

Discussion Questions

  • What parallels do you see between Chen and Jesus?
  • How do you define glory?  How does that compare with how the world and Jesus define it?
  • In what tangible ways do members of your group/family/church “love one another”?  Would others recognize that you are Jesus’ disciples by the way that you treat one another?
  • Who would you be willing to die for?

Activity Suggestions

  • As a group, wash one another’s feet.  Follow with discussion about how it feels.  After that, make plans for washing the feet of others you know, perhaps in a homeless shelter, nursing home, or another setting with people who are often overlooked or undervalued.  Who would benefit from this form of loving service in your community?
  • Research the Make-a-Wish Foundation.  What stories from their work inspire you?

Closing Prayer

God of glory, graciously continue to fill our hearts, our bloodstreams, and our lives with the love of Jesus.  Strengthen us to love one another and teach us how to give life to others.  Comfort the dying and give them, like Chen, an opportunity to help others live.  Transform all our troubles into glory through Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Lord.  Amen

November 3, 2013–Forgiveness is a Journey

Contributed by David Delaney, Salem, VA


Warm-up Question

What famous person or celebrity would you most like to meet?   Would it be a current music star or movie star or model?   A public leader like the president or the pope?   A sports hero from one of the teams in the World Series or the upcoming football season?  A TV personality?  A character from a reality show?  Or the star of the latest viral video on Youtube?

Whoever that would be, imagine that this person came to your town and decided to have an open air parade where she would just ride down the street and wave to people with no one holding the crowds back;  people could just come up to her and say hello or climb up on the car or anything.  Keep in mind that this is someone who is probably very, very popular, so the crowd is going to be huge. What do you think your chances would be of getting close enough even to say hello, let alone have a conversation?  That is how a lot of people felt when Jesus came riding through Jericho that day on his way up to Jerusalem.  Because of his miracles and teaching, common people were fascinated with him and religious and political authorities distrusted him, so he was someone a lot of people wanted to see.

Let’s make the situation harder:  The morning of the parade where you are going to see your celebrity, you just sprained your ankle and you’re on crutches, so you can’t even walk up to the parade.  You have to watch from a distance.  Don’t forget:  this is someone you *really* admire and would give anything to meet.  Right when the parade is passing and hundreds or even thousands of people are crowded around, your celebrity looks right at you and points and says, “I have to meet *that* person!”  You – along with everyone else – would be stunned.  How did she even know you?

Let’s make the situation even more complicated yet:  Let’s say you’ve done something – at school or in your community – to make everyone despise you, like you won the lottery by cheating or something like that.  No one can prove it, but everyone knows that it’s true, so they basically hate you.  Now, when the celebrity looks at you and calls your name, the crowd is not only stunned, they’re angry and resentful.  This is very much what the scene would have looked and felt like to Zacchaeus when he saw Jesus pass through Jericho.

Forgiveness is a Journey

Many people have not heard of a small but committed movement called “Theshutterstock_157483391edit Forgiveness Project.”  The aim of this movement is to collect and share stories where people have found peace and renewed relationships by forgiving someone who has harmed or deceived them.  In some cases, the harm that had been done was quite significant – murder of a loved one, permanent injury, spousal unfaithfulness, squandering all of a family’s resources, and other things like that.

In August of this year a prominent friend of The Forgiveness Project named Anne Gallagher died suddenly, and her death inspired a lot of renewed sharing about her unique ability to bring about reconciliation through forgiveness.  Anne was from Northern Ireland, where she had started her own organization, “Seeds of Hope,” as a way of helping people who have either been victims of the long and violent conflict in Northern Ireland (what the Irish call “The Troubles”) or have been perpetrators of that violence, especially if they have been imprisoned.  Its primary vehicle for forgiveness and healing is shared story-telling.

Anne Gallagher’s gift was somehow to inspire people to see the humanity in every single person, regardless of what terrible things they might have done.  Yet her death has also allowed her friends and followers to recall the importance she attached to forgiveness when reconciliation was the goal.  People could not just start to get along again or pretend that the past did not matter– they had to acknowledge the harm they had done or the harm that had been done to them, and only then, when faced with another person who did not really deserve to be forgiven, could true forgiveness occur and reconciliation follow.

“Forgiveness … is needed to bring closure to the pain and suffering experienced in Northern Ireland,” Anne said. “You can’t contemplate hope unless you address despair. To heal the wounds of Northern Ireland I believe you have to see humanity in the face of the enemy. But forgiveness is a journey. Today you can forgive and tomorrow you can feel pain all over again … for me forgiveness is about grace. To be able to forgive someone who has hurt you is a moment of grace.”

 Discussion Questions

  • We do not know how the conversation between Jesus and Zacchaeus started, but somehow it ended up with Zacchaeus admitting to Jesus what he had done and vowing to make the same admission to those he had cheated, so that there could be both forgiveness and reconciliation.  Can you see any similarity between Jesus actions and the vision which inspired Anne Gallagher’s work?
  • What gives people the courage to forgive when as in the case of Northern Ireland, there is long tradition of distrust, violence, and pain?


Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 3, 2013 (Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost)

Isaiah 1:10-18

2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12

Luke 19:1-10

(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

This passage allows us to take up one of several roles, depending on our life circumstance.  For some of us, it is possible to look at things we have done and presume that we are no longer able to be on friendly terms with the “decent” people we know because of our guilt.  Others of us are content to let people who are obviously bad stay out of our lives.  Others of us are – like Jesus – strongly motivated to overcome the divisions we see between people around us.

What a gift Jesus gives us here to pass on, especially if we are someone who is not always on the receiving end of hatred and rejection. We can reach out to those who are. It is possible that they have earned the negative reputation they have, but – like Jesus – we can go to them, not out of moral superiority or in order to demand justice, but just because we want the relationship to be restored.

Who knows what might come of that if it is tried?  And if we are the ones who have been rejected – with or without justification – imagine the joy and gratitude we would experience at being encountered by those who we thought would never have anything to do with us!

Discussion Questions

  •  It is difficult to overestimate the dislike that the Jews of Jericho would have had for a tax collector in Jesus’ day.  First of all, the Jews generally despised the Roman Empire because Rome continued to occupy the territory that the Jews considered to be their ancestral promised land, so anyone who worked for or collaborated with the Romans – such as tax collectors – would have been considered a traitor to the Jewish cause and also “unclean” for worship because of the tax collector’s frequent contact with the Romans who were pagans.  Furthermore, tax collectors were on their own to determine what amounts to charge, as long as they gave the correct amount to the Roman authorities.  Jericho was a border town, which meant that anyone who crossed either way had to pay a customs tax and was at the mercy of the tax collector.  An ambitious tax collector might very well charge as much as four times a normal amount to someone who was obviously anxious to get across the border.  Shortly after Jesus’ day the law among Jews was that if a tax-collector came into your house, the entire house and everything in it would become religiously unclean.  How does this inform or change your view of what a serious matter it must have been when Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’s house for a meal?  Look back in the previous chapter of Luke and see if this helps make sense of passages like 18:31-34.
  • Note the placement of this story.  If you look at the rest of chapter 19 and through to chapter 22, what is getting ready to happen to Jesus?  Is it surprising that Jesus takes this kind of risk, knowing that he already has enemies in the Jerusalem area?  What other kinds of risky and surprising things do we see Jesus doing in this gospel and in the other gospels?
  • What does it mean when Jesus says “Salvation has come to this house” ?  What do we think when we hear the word “salvation,” and does a passage like this inform or change our ideas at all?  If we think of salvation only in terms of what happens to us after we die, this passage doesn’t make much sense, but if salvation is as much what happens to us now, in terms of growing close to God, is that a better understanding of salvation, especially here?
  • The overall story in Luke’s gospel is full of criss-cross patterns.  This passage actually has a kind of parallel to the instructions given by John the Baptist to both Jews and Romans back in chapter 3:7-14.  Note even the parallel reference to children of Abraham.   What is this passage teaching us about our own possessions, our own honesty, our own tendencies to be greedy, and our own relationship to the poor and needy around us?  Let’s imagine what our own reactions would be if Jesus himself showed up in the flesh to one of our homes for a meal.  What would we find ourselves admitting to him?  What would we promise to do to be faithful to the call to gospel living that is in both chapter 3 and chapter 19?

Activity Suggestions

  •  Invitations to meals are always a good way to build relationships.  Are there people in the school or neighborhood – or even the congregation – who would welcome an invitation to a meal with the youth of your church?  Plan a meal and then ask them if they would like to come join you!
  • Use the various online and other tools that are available to you to find places in the world where unjust economic practices have created a rift of hatred between the wealthy and the poor or between those who have power to extort money from the population and those who are victimized by that.  Keep these people – perpetrators as well as victims – in your prayers throughout the rest of the fall.

Closing Prayer

Lord Jesus, in your love you have reached out to the lonely, the rejected, and the guilty in every generation, and you have reached out to us as well to announce to us that you intend to come and make your home in our lives and our hearts.  Give us, we pray, the strength to welcome you with repentance and gratitude and courage, so that we may in turn welcome others into the family of Abraham’s children.  In your holy name we pray, Amen.

November 11, 2012–Reckless Generosity

Contributed by Paul Baglyos, St. Paul, MN

Warm-up Question

Generosity: Is it just a nice idea or is it a life commitment?

Reckless Generosity

Earlier this fall blogger David Briggs, writing for the Huffington Post, noted that recent research reveals that many churchgoing Americans misrepresent the amount of money they give in charitable contributions.  Whether intentionally or not, many people reply to questions about their giving by overstating the amount they actually give.  Briggs describes the research findings as indicating a “gap between perception and reality.”  Many people think that they give more than they really do, perhaps because they are unaware of their actual giving.  They may claim that they give more than they really do because they want to be regarded as more generous than they really are.  Apparently, many people are more committed to the idea of giving than to the actual practice of it. For Briggs’ full article on the research findings, go here.


Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think many people overstate the amount of money they actually give in charitable contributions?
  • Do you think it is difficult to be generous?  If so, why is it difficult?
  • Do you know any generous people?  Who are they?  In what ways are they generous?
  • Are you a generous person?  Do you find it difficult or easy to be generous?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 11, 2012 (Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost)

1 Kings 17:8-16

Hebrews 9:24-28

Mark 12:38-44

(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

By commending the example of the poor widow, Jesus makes it clear that true generosity cannot be measured in money but only in attitude.  The widow’s two small copper coins, worth only a penny, count for little in comparison to the much larger sums of money given by others.  The true value of her offering is that it represents everything she has to give.  In other words, the widow is more generous than all the others because she gives everything while they give only something.

Jesus emphasizes that the widow “put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”  By any human calculation, the widow has done something reckless and foolish.  But her reckless folly mirrors the generosity of God.  Again and again in the teaching of Jesus, as in the entire Bible, God is seen to be reckless and foolish in God’s own abundant generosity.  Consider the stories that Jesus tells about the father and his two sons (Luke 15) or the laborers hired to work in the vineyard (Matthew 20).  Read what Jesus teaches in Matthew 7:25-33, and reflect upon the ways in which the poor widow has taken such teaching to heart.

By commending the generosity of the poor widow, Jesus points to the generosity of God.  The widow is a witness to the generosity of God, who gives everything and all.  Consider what Martin Luther teaches about God’s generosity in the Small Catechism, where Luther explains the Apostles’ Creed.  Scripture tells us that human beings are created in the image of God.  The poor widow shows us what it means to live as the image of the God who gives everything and all.

Discussion Questions

  • How do our practices of generosity witness to the generosity of God?  How does our giving represent what we believe about God?  What does our giving teach others about God?
  • What does it mean for us to be people created in the image of an abundantly generous God?  How does our generous God call us to live?

Activity Suggestions

  • Have a conversation at home with your family about financial giving.  Ask how much money the people in your family give in church offerings and other charitable contributions.  What are the beliefs and attitudes that guide the giving habits in your family?  Are the people in your family willing or reluctant to talk about their giving?  How does your family teach and practice generosity?
  • As a group, identify a project or a concern toward which you would like to make a collective contribution.  Make a plan about what you will do together, including the commitments that each person will make to help fulfill that plan.

Closing Prayer

Help us who have received so freely from you to give as freely in our turn, and so have the pleasure of giving as well as the happiness of receiving.*  Amen

 (*for this and other prayers)

October 14, 2012–Where Does Our Money Go?

Contributed by Jay Gamelin, Lexington, S. C.


Warm-up Question

Have you ever received a large financial gift?  What did you do with it?

Where Does Our Money Go”

Quadriga Art helped several non-profit companies raise millions of dollars to support their work with poor and marginalized populations from Native American children to disabled veterans.  So why are these non-profits in debt to Quadriga?  Can this possibly be okay?

It’s hard to say.

On one side, the company raises money for programs that are meant to help others but have a high cost to run.  When these projects fail it is not the fault of the fundraiser but the management of the projects.  If the project uses all the money raised without paying the fundraising company, the project owes a debt to the fundraising company. The fundraising company cannot be held accountable of poor management in the nonprofits.

On the other hand, it is the fundraiser’s job to raise this money. The projects these non-profits create are dependent on the support of the fundraisers and it is their work to make sure the goals are achieved. If they do not reach their goals, can this be the fault of the nonprofits?

This issue raises questions about how we give and support projects we believe are worthy. When we give to something, are we sure that the money is going where we think it is?  How much of the money we give goes to the project and how much goes to administration, support, advertising, and yes, the fundraising effort itself?

As this issue is resolved through investigations, it is clear that the greater lesson to be learned is this- know where you are giving and be sure your dollar is doing what you think it is doing.


Discussion Questions

  • Who is at fault in this case?  Do you find yourself supporting the non-profits or the fundraiser?  Why?
  • When was the last time you gave to a charity (outside of church)?  How much research did you put into the charity and how they use their income?  What do you think your money is doing?
  • How do you balance your own giving?  How much of your own money do you give to causes you think are worthy?  What is a goal you have for your own giving?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, October 14, 2012 (Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Amos 5:6-7

Hebrews 4:12-16

Mark 10:17-31

(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

What do we make of the rich young ruler in our gospel?  Is this a man troubled by the evils of wealth?  Is love for money the root of all evil?  It seems so, if we are to take this text at face value.  Perhaps it is easier to pass a camel through a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom.  Why?

Jesus holds up for the rich young ruler the laws of Moses and the ruler says he has followed “these.”  But what is to be noticed is not what is listed but what is not: “You shall have no other God before me” “Observe the Sabbath” and “Do not covet” are missing.  This is a remez style of rabbinical teaching, where what we are notice is not what is quoted but what is around it and we pay attention to what is not said.  By removing these commands, we look at the reality that this is not about money but rather that he has another God and it is his own wealth, that he has not honored the Sabbath (perhaps working instead!) and that this has led to him wanting more and more. Jesus recommends expelling this from his life, to get rid of this idol. Seems so easy, right?

We cannot simply remove wealth from our lives as if it were cancer.   In today’s culture, we need it for food, clothing, shelter, etc.  The issue is not the money, it’s what happens when we serve it as our god.  When wealth and accumulation becomes our goal we lose what is more important, justice and mercy. Amos says that we are to seek good, and this can be done with wealth. It has great power to do good things.  But we also need to be wise with our wealth. We need to be sure we give generously, so that it does not control us, but also wisely, so that it is being used for holy purposes. Seek the wisdom to use your monies for good so that you may control it rather than have it control you.

Discussion Questions

  • What are some things you think money is good for?  How has it been a help?  What are ways you have seen money used poorly?
  • What are projects you have been interested in giving a hand to?  What needs are in the world you would be interested in supporting financially?  Have you done this?  Why or why not?
  • Do you know of examples in your life, people or other entities, you look up to when it comes to money and giving? Does their faith affect them in their decisions?
  • What are some other things you think are great gifts of God but can quickly become idols?  (i.e. image problems, overindulgence of food, over-exercise, etc.)

Activity Suggestions

Charity Watch:

For this activity, you will need a computer connection.   Let’s take a look at some non-profits and how they use their money. Visit a site such as  Think of some non-profit organizations that you may want to consider giving to.  If you are looking for some direction, try these:  Lutheran World Relief, Compassion International, YWCA, World Vision, Kare Youth League, and Blood:water mission. How do you think they are doing? Hint: Don’t just look at the score!  Take a close look at the information such as the number of dollars that go to program as opposed to administration. Perhaps some are better than they may appear on the surface! Which might you be interested in helping?

There are many worthy places to support. It is our job to seek where our heart meets the needs of the world. No one can give to every worthy place, instead decide where your heart is called and get determined to give what you can to support this call.

Closing Prayer

The earth is yours and everything in it, Lord, ourselves, our time, and our possessions. Help us to use what you have given us to be signs of life and good. Lead us to those places that need us. We turn over what we have to you, in the name of Jesus. AMEN.

March 18, 2012–Remembering Lloyd

Contributed by Bob Chell, Brookings, SD


Warm-up Question

What would you like to be remembered for when you die?

Remembering Lloyd

To access this week’s news item click on

 Discussion Questions

  • What question would you want to ask Lloyd about his life?
  • What in Lloyd’s life sounds challenging and rewarding?
  • What in Lloyd’s life sounds boring and unimportant?
  • What in your life is challenging and rewarding?
  • What in your life is boring and unimportant?
  • What does it mean to be saved now, today?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, March 18, 2012 (Fourth Sunday in Lent)

Numbers 21:4-9

Ephesians 2:1-10

John 3:14-21

(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 first time I met Lloyd I had trouble understanding him. He talked quickly and his stroke made his words a mumble to me. I didn’t connect him with Pedro and Anna for months. Anna was a graduate student at the university. Pedro, and their son, Lwin, seemed to be walking every time I drove anywhere, to the school, to the park, to the store. When both our children won Radio Flyer wagons in the local radio station’s Christmas promotion they wanted to give one to Lwin. We delivered it to the apartment they shared with Lloyd. That’s when I made the connection.

The apartment was not small. It was tiny. It was clearly meant for one. I didn’t want to be nosy and never asked, but I suspect Lloyd  slept on the couch, while his long term guests had the bedroom. Whatever the arrangements, it was clear that with his meager income, Lloyd had welcomed a family into his life as well as his home.

Our gospel lesson is so familiar it sometimes seems to have lost it’s power to break through the routine of our lives to shape and change them. Someone once told me that anywhere the Bible says ‘believe’ you can substitute the word ‘trust.’ I like the truth that doing this reveals. I live in the Upper Midwest where an unusually warm winter has left the ice on lakes and rivers unsafe. You can stand on the shore and determine whether you believe the ice can hold your weight but it’s an entirely different matter to take the first step trusting it will sustain your weight.

Lloyd lived this truth, trusting in God’s promises, not only for him but for all people.  In trusting he took the hands of others, inviting them to join him in trusting God’s promises to undergird, support, and sustain them.

Discussion Questions

  • The gospel also talks about being condemned. What does that mean for our lives now? Does it mean forever?
  • Who is the Lloyd in your life, who quietly lives trust in God’s promises?
  • When were you ‘Lloyd’ for another–listening, helping, or encouraging someone?
  • How does your experience illustrate what Jesus meant when he said; “…those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:24)

Activity Suggestions

  • Write a thank you note to the “Lloyd” in your life telling them why you see them as inspirational.
  • Determine a time or place this week where you can be a “Lloyd” for someone. Give it a try and talk next week about how that experience went (and what it means if it went terribly, as some are bound to)!
  • If you are reading and discussing this in a group, determine how you can be a “Lloyd” in your congregation, school or other setting

Closing Prayer

God, you have gifted us with many things and we take your greatest gifts for granted, the gifts of life and loving friends and family. Thank you for those people who “get us” and understand what it means to struggle with pain and problems. Turn us away from our own struggles so that we recognize the pain of others and reach out to them in encouraging support.  We pray in Jesus name, Amen.