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November 11-18, 2009 – The end is near… run!

Contributed by Rod G. Boriack
Chicago, IL

Warm-up Question: Do you ever think about the world coming to an end? How do you envision it happening?

bomb-blast180The end is near — again — run! The movie “2012” is getting ready to open in theaters everywhere in November.

“2012” is based on the pop-theory that the end of the world is going to be on December 21, 2012. The story follows an academic researcher leading a group of people in a fight to counteract the apocalyptic events that were predicted by the ancient Mayan calendar and other historical documents, astronomy, biblical and scientific data.

There’s plenty of action, mysterious and ancient messages, destruction, earthquakes, tsunamis, narrow escapes, explosions, and more! The characters even out-run, out-drive, and out-fly the massive collapse of the entire West Coast. Yipes!

“2012” joins a long line of end of times movies:

  • “Independence Day” (1996)
  • “The Day After Tomorrow” (2002)
  • “The Fifth Element” (1997)
  • “Terminator 2” (1991)
  • “Men in Black II” (2002)
  • “Deep Impact” (1998)
  • “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951 & 2008)
  • “War of the Worlds” (1953 & 2005)
  • “Left Behind: The Movie” (2001)
  • “End of Days” (1991)
  • and on, and on, and on.

If it’s got you worried or wondering, remember, it’s just Hollywood smothering us in computer generated imagery (CGI) special effects and appealing to the worst of our inner fears and imagination.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you like these end of times kind of movies, or the ones that show the survivors of a world disaster or collapse? What draws you to them? Or, what do you find uninteresting about them?
  2. What do you think of the predictions and theories of when and how the world will end? What do you think of the people who make them? (Like Nostradamus’ predictions, the Left Behind novels, people who interpret numbers and symbols, astrologers, self-proclaimed prophets, religious or cult leaders, etc.)

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 15, 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

Talking about the end of the world is nothing new. We fear it, hope it doesn’t happen, can’t wait for it to happen, pray that we’ll survive it somehow, want to the know the signs of it approaching, and are sometimes shocked or depressed by the thought of it. We want the details.

(Oh yeah, and we probably want to be able to out-run any explosions, tidal waves, or earthquakes that may happen. Like in the movies.)

The end of the world, and what follows, was a hot topic in Jesus’ time, too. A lot of people thought it was going to happen any day (that was 2,000 years ago). They wanted to know if what they were experiencing in life — war, persecution, famines, earthquakes, sickness, political problems… sound familiar? — were signs that the end of the world was near.

There were plenty of people who claimed to know how and when it was going to happen. And, as throughout history, plenty of people believed and followed them: “…they will lead many astray.” Here in the book of Mark, Jesus reminds his disciples not to be drawn in by such con artists or people stirring up fear and panic in the name of God.

So, what are we to do? Act like nothing is going to happen? Forget about the present and become obsessed with the end? Run?

Jesus has another idea: actively wait. Don’t ignore the life we have right now — it’s a gift entrusted to us. Don’t run away and ignore everything. Instead, challenge each other to actions and relationships of love, compassion, and justice. Get together and encourage each other. Never let go of hope. We have been given life and set free by God’s love and forgiveness to live it fully…

“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)

Discussion Questions

  1. Imagine Jesus is sitting here with us in the room. We’re talking about all the great stuff going on in life right now and all the cool stuff we’re going to do, and Jesus interrupts: “You know, it’s all going to come to an end someday. It’s all going to be gone. I don’t know when, but it’s all going to end.” What’s your first gut reaction to his comments? Then what questions pop into your head that you want to ask Jesus?
  2. What’s your interpretation of what’s meant by “actively waiting”? When you read the Bible and reflect on God’s word, what things does God seem to want us to be busy with in life? What things does God want us to be concerned about (other than the end)?
  3. Where do you find hope when things seem dark, pointless, or overwhelming? What hope do you find in God’s word and promises?

Activity Suggestion

No better time than right now.

Pass out paper and something to write with. Ask each person to write down as many things as they can that they want, hope, or need to do, accomplish, or say before they die. Give the group 3 minutes or so to make their lists.

Gather back together or in small groups. Share your list of “must do” things. Give each person encouragement to actually do something that they have mentioned; encouragement to work on it right now.

If participants permit, post all of the lists on the wall and leave them up for a few weeks. Refer back to them now and then, and see if anything is happening. Give gentle encouragement and offer prayer.

Closing Prayer

God, make me brave for life: oh, braver than this.
Let me straighten after pain, as a tree straightens after the rain,
Shining and lovely again.
God, make me brave for life; much braver than this.
As the blown grass lifts, let me rise
From sorrow with quiet eyes,
Knowing your way is wise.
God, make me brave, life brings
Such blinding things.
Help me to keep my sight;
Help me to see clearly
That in darkness, you are light.

(author unknown)

January 7-14, 2009 – Dropping the ball on New Year’s night

Warm-up Question: If you are already baptized, do you remember the date and place? Who were your sponsors?

In New York City, the first-ever Times Square celebration on New Year’s Eve occurred in 1904. Originally named Longacre Square, the name was changed after the New York Times opened their new headquarters in that district. The Times Tower was the second-tallest building in Manhattan at the time, anchoring the intersection of Broadway, 7th Avenue and 42nd Street.

The owner of the Times newspaper spared no expense in preparing a spectacular New Year’s Eve celebration. After a full-day street festival, fireworks were set off and at midnight over 200,000 people cheered with noisemakers of all kinds. The celebration could be heard nearly thirty miles north on the shores of the Hudson River. The entire building remained lit up for the evening and the area quickly replaced former gathering places while capturing the attention of the nation and the world.

At the end of 1907 when New York banned the fireworks display, the owner of the Times arranged to have an iron and wood ball that weighed nearly 700 pounds lowered from the buildings flag pole at midnight to signal the transition from 1907 to 1908. For nearly 100 years, the same sign making company has been responsible for the lowering of the ball. Even after the New York Times outgrew Times Tower in 1914 and moved to West 43rd Street, the celebration in Times Square continued to grow as a part of America’s cultural fabric.

While the original building has been stripped down and transformed into another company’s headquarters, the celebration of New Year’s Eve in Times Square has continued to draw international attention. With modern technology, it is estimated that over one billion people watch the ceremony every year. The lowering of the ball has become an international tradition as people welcome the new year.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Why or why not? If you do, what is the most successful resolution you have made and why? What was the least successful and why?
  • New Year’s marks a time of hope and change for many people. What other events promote hope or change for people? Why do we need or not need these events?
  • If you could only celebrate one event a year, what would it be and why?
  • What are the names of the seasons on our liturgical calendar? What does each season celebrate or mark? Why is each season or time period on the church calendar important? Refer to Evangelical Lutheran Worship or the ELCA Worship Web site for planning, if needed.

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, January 11, 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

New Year’s Eve marks a time of transition for many people around the world. For some it is a time of hope, for others a time of celebration, and for many it is a time to make new promises and set new goals. We call them resolutions, and they are often set to improve on goals already accomplished or on goals we hope to achieve. Either way, these goals and promises mark a new beginning for us.

John the Baptist’s ministry was different than prophets and teachers of the past. It was different because he was “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4) Many came, many were baptized, and many confessed their sins. This confession, however sincere, still lacked one thing. It lacked the element of mission. (Even whole-hearted repentance can still be self-centered.)

God’s relationship to humanity has many transitions, new beginnings, and promises. Think of God’s actions for Abraham, Noah, Moses, Ruth, Elizabeth, and Mary to name a few.
When Jesus walked up to John to be baptized, there was more than a new beginning or a ritual. Jesus’ baptism marked a transition in the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise to all humankind through the Christ child. “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (vs. 8)

It is in Christ’s word, deeds, and actions from that point forward through which we understand the gift of mission we receive with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. All the way to the cross, and through Christ’s death and resurrection, our own baptisms bring us renewal and transition every day. As members of the body of Christ, we live out our baptism every day so that the world might know the transforming love of God.

Discussion Questions

  • What is the largest crowd you have ever been in? What was the experience like? Why were you there?
  • Read Mark 1:8 again. What does it mean to be baptized in the Holy Spirit? Is this a proclamation of our mission as the body of Christ? As individuals? If so, what does this mean for us?
  • How does our congregation celebrate baptisms? What are the responsibilities of the parents, sponsors, and congregational members described during the baptismal celebration and liturgy?
  • Do you mark your baptismal anniversary with any kind of celebration or ritual? Why or why not?

Learn more about the sacrament of Baptism at the ELCA Worship Web site for Frequently Asked Questions.

Activity Suggestions

  • Participate in the “Affirmation of Baptism” found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 234.
  • Ask your pastor or congregation’s leaders to see the congregation’s baptismal records for the last year (or two). Send a thank you, birthday card, or letter of encouragement to parents and/or sponsors to commemorate the baptisms in the congregation. If this is not possible, try surveying as many members of the congregation as possible to see how many can remember the date of their baptism. Start a bulletin board with postcards or notices that members can fill in. The postcards could read: “I’m__________ and I was baptized in ________ (city) on __________ (date).”
  • Take turns completing this sentence: “Being baptized means that I…”, or “I live out my baptism each day by…”
  • Choose a hymn to sing from the Baptism of our Lord (page 1178) or Holy Baptism (page 1183) topical sections of Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

Closing Prayer

Prayer for Daily Renewal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 86:

Almighty God, by our baptism into the death and resurrection of your Son, Jesus Christ, you turn us from the old life of sin. Grant that we who are reborn to new life in him may live in righteousness and holiness all our days, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Almighty God, you renew us and restore us through baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus. Guide us to holiness and righteousness as we live out your word. Amen.

Contributed by Matthew R. Nelson
Walla Walla, WA