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March 31, 2013–Treasure in Plain Sight

Contributed by Sylvia Alloway, Granada Hills, CA


Warm-up Question

Have you ever been wrong about someone? Have you ever rejected a person as odd, stupid, or untrustworthy and later discovered that you were mistaken? What was the situation? What happened?

Treasure in Plain Sight

shutterstock_12168025editThe white bowl with the pointy, leaf-like pattern shaped into it had sat on the mantle in a New York state home for several years. The family had paid three dollars for it at a tag sale. A belated curiosity about the trinket’s origin led the family to an assessor and a big surprise. Their humble little bowl was 1,000-year-old Chinese treasure, an example of “Ding” pottery from the Northern Song dynasty.

Given to the famous auction house Sotheby’s to sell, it was expected to fetch around $200,000. A bidding war among four art collectors resulted in a price ten times that much, $2.2 million.


Discussion Questions

  • There is an old saying: He knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. What does this mean? What is the difference between price and value?
  • Is there anything in your life that you value, even though it is not worth much money? What? Why?
  • Think about what people without Christ value, compared to what Christians value. Is there a difference? What is it?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, March 31, 2013 (Resurrection of Our Lord Easter Day)


Acts 10:34-43

1 Corinthians 15:19-26

Luke 24:1-12

(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

There are two Bible stories that are so familiar to Christians that we hardly pay attention to the words when we hear them. One is the story of Jesus birth, the other is the story of his resurrection. These two miracles are the heart of Christianity, special occasions in the church. We give thanks, sing some songs, and go about our business.

But think about these words: “There were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night.”

Um, yeah. So?

Shepherds were considered unclean by upper class Jews. They were not invited into homes. They were not allowed to testify in court. They were outcasts. Yet, these despised people were the first to hear about Jesus’ birth. God valued them and their strong, simple faith. He entrusted them with the news of his Son’s arrival. Sure enough, they ran to tell anyone they could find that the Messiah was born.

In today’s lesson we read the familiar story of the women finding the empty tomb. Women, too, were outcasts, thought inferior to men. Women, too, could not testify in court, because they would not be believed. (Notice how the disciples react when they hear the women’s testimony.) Yet God again chooses outcasts as the first to behold the culmination of his great plan of salvation, the greatest event in the history of the world. Again he gives them a message to tell. He shows how much he values those whom the world rejects.

God does not choose people who think they are worth more than others to spread the news of his salvation. He values the humble, the willing, the faithful, as if they were million-dollar treasures. He paid for them, for us, a price immeasurably greater than money. He paid with his lifeblood.

Let us run and tell!

Discussion Questions

  • In today’s world humility is not considered a very valuable trait. Why is this so?
  • What is the value of humility? What can humble people accomplish that those who think they are great can’t?
  • Christians are often considered outcasts in the non-Christian world. How can we follow the example of the shepherds and the women in telling others the Good News?

Activity Suggestions

  •  Think of a way the class can tell the Good News of Christ’s resurrection. Do it.
  • Talk about what makes a person an outcast among young people. How we can value outcasts and not reject them as the world does?
  • Sing any resurrection song

Closing Prayer

God of the humble, Savior of the outcast, we ask for true humility. Convict us when we put someone down or leave someone out. May the joy of your salvation fill us so that others can see and know that there is hope in you. In Our Savior’s Holy Name, Amen.

May 4-10, 2011–Everyone is Talking About It

Contributed by Angie Larson, Clive, Iowa

Warm-up Question

What is the biggest story that has been in the news lately?

Everyone is Talking About It

On Friday, April 29th at Westminster Abbey, Prince William of England and Miss Catherine Middleton were married.  The Royal Wedding consumed much of the media coverage over the past month.  It seems that everyone was talking about it.  Pre-wedding details were scrutinized by the media.  How will the couple process?  What will the dress look like?  Who will be invited to the ceremony?   The wedding was discussed on talk shows, news programs, and even included in sit-coms in the preceding weeks. Wedding memorabilia was sold, websites popped up featuring the couple, comparisons were made to previous royal weddings, and some websites even published appropriate vocabulary to use at the royal wedding.   It seemed every question surrounding the couple’s wedding was looked into by the media.  How much pressure did the florist feel?  What training will the police have to accommodate the wedding?  What does the prince feel about those who have turned down their invitations, like the prince of Bahrain and Ireland’s rugby captain Brian O’Driscoll? The Royal Wedding became the spotlight of media attention; it seemed that everyone was talking about it.

Discussion Questions

  • Did you tune in for the Royal Wedding?
  • What do you think about the amount of media coverage for the  ceremony?
  • How do you think the Prince and new Princess felt about the speculation and expectations leading up to their wedding?  How would you feel if you were them?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 8, 2011 (Third Sunday of Easter)

Acts 2:14a, 36-41

1 Peter 1:17-23

Luke 24:13-35

(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 C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

A mournful pair walks down the road to Emmaus talking about all the things that had just happened in Jerusalem. Everyone was talking about Jesus’ crucifixion and the events that followed. They met a man on the road who appeared to not have heard the story of Jesus.  They did not know that that man was Jesus.  He asked them why they seemed so sad.  They replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” Jesus, keeping up the conversation, asks them to explain what has happened.  The pair explain to him everything that  happened and how suddenly three days after the crucifixion some women they know claim to have seen a vision of angels, telling them that Jesus is in fact alive.  Jesus takes this opportunity to open up the scriptures to them. He shares with them the prophecies and how they have been fulfilled in his actions.  The pair invites Jesus, still not knowing it was him, into their home to stay.  At dinner time, Jesus takes the bread and blesses it.  This is a strange event, as it is usually the homeowner who blesses and breaks the bread.  At that event, the breaking of the bread, the pair realizes that it is Jesus.  Then, interestingly, Jesus disappears.  They reflect on their feelings of what it was like to talk to him and are so excited and invigorated that even though it is late they run seven miles back to Jerusalem to find the disciples.

It seemed that everyone was talking about Jesus. The road to Emmaus couple was astounded to find that this supposed stranger had not heard about the death and resurrection of Jesus.  If it were in today’s world there would have instantly been websites, memorabilia, and newscasts of the events of Jerusalem.  People would be interviewed, scandals made up, and speculations intertwined with the facts.  It seems that everyone would have known about the event, like it seems that everyone knows about the royal wedding.  However, Jesus took this opportunity to provide some clarity for the pair consumed in grief.  He keeps his identity from them so that he can open up the Scriptures to them and show them all they ways in which the prophecies came true in his actions.  He shows them why the Son should suffer death and be raised, and that the events had a purpose.

Discussion Questions

  • How do you think the couple responded when they realized it was Jesus after he disappeared?
  • In your mind, was the pair consoled from their grief before they knew it was Jesus?
  • What are some ways that Jesus has been known to you unexpectedly?

Activity Suggestion

Create some resurrection memorabilia.  Either gather or purchase smooth stones.  With a paint marker, write “He is Risen” on one side of the stone.  Encourage those who you give them to use them as a reminder of the biggest news to ever come across the world, that Jesus has risen from the dead and that the tomb’s stone has been moved away.

Closing Prayer

Dear Lord Jesus, You are the biggest news that has ever happened.  Help us to talk about your life, death, and resurrection as much as we talk about other things going on in the world.  We are curious about your life. Open our hearts to your scriptures and our eyes to your presence. Help us to be continually surprised by who you are. Thank you for being present in our hearts. Amen.

April 20-26, 2011–Aftershocks

Contributed by Scott Mims, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Virginia Beach, VA


Warm-up Questions

  • What is the most exciting, captivating, or important thing about Easter to you?  Why?
  • Does your family have any special Easter rituals or traditions?  If so, how have these rituals or traditions helped to shape your experience/understanding of Easter and your faith?


On March 11, 2001 a massive earthquake struck off the coast of Japan triggering a devastating tsunami that swept over cities and farmland in the northern part of the country.  The earthquake, whose magnitude was measured at 9.0 on the Richter scale, is one of the most powerful ever recorded.  Adding to the catastrophe, critical cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station were severely damaged, triggering explosions, partial core meltdowns, and releases of radioactive material directly into the atmosphere and ocean. In all, over 27,000 people were either killed or are still missing.

A month later, the aftershocks continue.  On April 11, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake—just one of hundreds of smaller, related quakes—rattled the northeastern coast of Japan triggering tsunami warnings and renewed fears.  Not all of the “aftershocks” have been physical, however.  From the sheer effects of this event in human terms, to falling stock markets, the loss of production from the world’s third largest economy, and the renewed concerns about the safety of nuclear power, the impact of this disaster is being felt the world over…and will be for a long time to come.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you know anyone who has either personally been affected by this event, or who knows someone who has been affected?  If so, what has this experience been like for them?
  • What fears, issues, questions, or concerns – if any – does this event, or similar disasters, raise for you?
  • How connected do you feel to events that are happening in other parts of the country or in the world?  Do you think what happens to other people, perhaps even people who live thousands of miles away, impacts your life?
  • Does the way that you live your life impact the lives of others?  How so?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 24, 2011 (Resurrection of Our Lord)

Acts 10:34-43
Colossians 3:1-4
Matthew 28:1-10

(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

We come today to the very epicenter of our Christian faith.  Everything that we do as Christians, from our worship life, to our evangelism and service, to the promise of God’s love and grace which sustains us, is rooted in Jesus’ resurrection.  This is ground zero.  Without the resurrection, Jesus’ death on a Roman cross would have been a tragedy at best. Yet in the resurrection, we see God’s affirmation of who Jesus is as Lord and Savior; in the resurrection we see God’s ultimate victory.

Yet, it is important to remember that, even though Jesus had tried to prepare his disciples and friends, the resurrection was initially a tremendous surprise!  Matthew, like all of our gospel writers, tells of certain women coming to the tomb of Jesus early, “as the first day of the week was dawning.”  Having seen Jesus laid to rest on Friday, they are coming expecting that the tomb would be occupied.  It was a Jewish custom in that day to watch the tomb until after the third day in order to make sure premature burial had not taken place.  Perhaps they were approaching Jesus’ well-guarded burial place as early after the Sabbath as they dared in order to offer this last act of devotion.  What they encountered shook them to the core, turning their world upside down.

“And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.”  Matthew’s account leaves no doubt as to who is ultimately behind the empty tomb.  While the other gospels have the women wondering who has already rolled away the stone, there is nothing ambiguous in this week’s gospel.  From the shaking ground, to the blazing angelic messenger, to the guards fainting away from fright, we know that it is none other than God who is at work here.  And though the angel’s message fills them both with fear and great joy, it is their encounter with the Risen Christ that convinces them that things would never be the same!

And of course, things haven’t been the same.  The earthquake in today’s gospel underscores Jesus’ resurrection as an apocalyptic, world-changing event.  It is an event whose aftershocks continue even today as hundreds of millions of people worldwide proclaim with great joy, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, alleluia!”

Discussion Questions

  • How do you think you might have reacted had you been with the women on that first Easter Sunday?  What might it have felt like to encounter Jesus as they did?
  • What difference does it make that God raised Jesus from the dead?
  • What difference does Jesus’ resurrection make to you personally?
  • The earthquake that struck Japan and its aftershocks are forces of devastation.  In what ways are the “aftershocks” of the resurrection forces for healing and life?  Or put another way, in what ways does our faith lead us to impact our world for God’s glory and for good?

Activity Suggestions

Bible Study: As a group, consider the question:  “Does the fact that the tomb was empty necessarily mean that Jesus was resurrected?”

  • See if your group can come up with other possibilities.  Several that have been suggested include: the women went to the wrong place, Jesus wasn’t really dead and somehow revived and escaped, the disciples stole the body, someone else (the Jewish or Roman authorities) stole the body.
  • Dig deeper into the gospel.  Beginning with the Crucifixion in Matthew 27: 32 and going through Matthew 28:15, what are the aspects of the story that would make these other possibilities highly unlikely?
  • What other “evidence” do we have that Jesus is alive and the Resurrection is true?

Service Project:  Consider how your group might be an “aftershock” of God’s victory and life during the 50 days that make up the Easter Season.  Could you organize an event or service project to raise money for victims of earthquakes, floods, or other natural and man-made disasters?  Is there an opportunity or need in your local community that your group can help address as a way of witnessing to the gospel?

Closing Prayer

Gracious and loving God, we are mindful today of all who suffer, and especially of those who are most vulnerable and in need.  Through your Spirit, let the power and promise of the Resurrection take root in our lives, that we may live as vibrant and faithful witnesses to your love; through Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord.  Amen!

January 26-February 1, 2011–More than Happy

Contributed by David Delaney, Salem, VA

Warm-up Question

If we move away from the word “blessed” for a minute and think of the word “happy” instead, what kinds of things come to mind when you imagine yourself as happy?  Think about experiences right now rather than a definition of the word.  Are you more likely to think of something you already occasionally do or experience or are you more likely to think of your future, a vision or goal for the good life?  If you and your group write all of these things down, do you see things in common or are you all over the map?  Do they tend to be things that give you immediate pleasure, recreation, and thrill, or things that turn you outward, relate to deeper meanings, or reorient your attitudes in a way that have longer value?  Do any of your experiences sound like anything in Matthew 5:1-12?

As we start to build an understanding of the meaning of the word “blessing” or “blessed,” what other words besides “happiness” and “happy” can you associate with those ideas?

More Than Happy

In mid-January an elderly couple won more than 300 million dollars in the Mega-Millions lottery, which they took in a lump sum rather than annual payments.   In an interview, they said they are determined not to go the way of so many other large lottery winners who have ended up on welfare after a few years because of reckless spending.  In spite of the plans they’ve announced to give a lot of their winnings away to charities and other major gifts, they have still already been inundated with hundreds requests for money and the simple task of responding to those requests has required a huge amount of time.

Not too many days after that lottery win, a woman in Tucson named Patricia Maisch probably saved more than a dozen lives by grabbing the extra gun clip from deranged killer Jared Lee Loughner in the middle of his January 8th shooting spree.   She has since been interviewed by more than two dozen news  organizations from around the world, including live television interviews.  She insists that she is not a hero, but this event has allowed her to speak out about gun violence, extreme political rhetoric, and the courage of those around her during the shooting.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you think that any of these people would describe themselves as “blessed”?
  • One couple had a dream come true – a huge amount of money dropped in their lap.  The other woman was unhurt in an incident in which 19 were shot and helped prevent the shooting of many others.  How does that help our emerging understanding of the being “blessed”?
  • What other examples can we think of where something that looks at first like a “blessing” might have another side to it, or on the other hand, something that sounds difficult and disruptive ends up providing a blessing we didn’t expect?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, January 30, 2011 (Fourth Sunday after Epiphany)

Micah 6:1-8

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Matthew 5:1-12

(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

Even though verse one of Matthew 5 suggests that Jesus is to be seen as the new Moses, the content of this set of teachings does not really parallel Exodus 19 and 20 very closely.  The commandment words in this chapter consist of things like “Rejoice and be glad!” and “Let your light so shine!”  As these chapters progress through what is called “the Sermon on the Mount,” they are more *descriptive* of what life following Jesus is like rather than *prescriptive* in the sense of dictating a set of do’s and don’t’s.   The call in 5:20 that the Christian’s righteousness must exceed that of the hyper-law-keeping Scribes and Pharisees is a strong clue that this righteousness of which Jesus speaks can only come as a gift from God and not from one’s own hard work and good behavior.

This attitude of receptivity and dependence on God’s grace that serves as the key to the entire Sermon on the Mount points back to our passage, where one wonders how it could ever be possible that the “poor in spirit” would be the very ones destined for heaven, or the meek would inherit the earth.  We are naturally suspicious of claims that showing mercy will elicit mercy from others, because our world does not appear to work that way.

This is what makes being a follower of Christ both the joy and the challenge that is described here.  To trust God for the fulfillment all of these promises is both our greatest unburdening (because it doesn’t depend on us!) and our greatest test (because such trust is an enormous risk!).

Discussion Questions

  • In verse one, Jesus goes up on a mountain to teach and invite his followers to a new kind of “law” for life.   Who does this remind us of from the Old Testament (answer = Moses) and what do we think the gospel writer wants us to understand about Jesus from this connection?
  • What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”?  Does our understanding of this phrase change if we paraphrase it as “those who know they need the spirit of God”?
  • What are some synonyms for “meek” ?  Some possibilities are “humble,” “gentle.”
  • It is possible to make two lists from the characteristics of the blessed in this passage:  one list contains the things that are more like life-experiences that happen *to* us – mournful, persecuted, slandered;  the other list contains things that have more to do with our attitudes and actions – meekness, mercy, purity in heart, peacemaking.  Some, like “poor in spirit” and “hungry for righteousness” could be both, because they can come from a natural humility or the experience of being deflated from our pride or self-righteousness.  What do we learn about following Jesus from this?  Is the blessed life an active and willful life, or passive and receptive, or both?
  • Return to the question of what “blessed” means.  Many translations of Matthew 5 actually use the word “happy,” which is one perfectly correct rendering of the Greek word makarios which appears here.  It may be, however, that “blessed” is still a better choice because it suggests that this condition of well-being is something that happens to a person  or comes as a gift rather than something that someone does to attain happiness or blessedness.  Which of these is the better way of describing the result of following Christ, trusting the gospel, and obeying Christ’s commands?
  • Some have noted that Matthew’s version of these “Beatitudes” differs from the list in Luke 6:20-31 particularly in that the Lukan list seems more deeply based in the actual experience of physical poverty, hunger, and persecution.   As if to emphasize the point, Luke also contains a list of warnings to those who have all of their needs currently met.  How literally should we take these descriptions of human conditions in Matthew 5 and Luke 6?  Can blessedness come from spiritual hunger just as much as physical hunger?
  • How do we imagine that these blessings become real in the lives of people who experience the hardships Jesus describes?  Is it simply a direct line from God to the individual?  Or do we who have experienced these things before or who are already equipped with the good news of the gospel and the means to relieve suffering play a role on God’s behalf in bringing blessing to others?
  • Some have been critical of these promises in Matthew because they can be seen as self-centered or unrelated to a community of relationships.   Yet if we take the example of verse 12, the blessing experienced by the prophets of Israel  even while they were being persecuted or killed was not simply a personal heavenly reward, but that the nation and the people heard the word of God, which – as the scriptures promise – is effective whether we see it or not!  Is it possible that the blessedness that is promised to *you* as someone who experiences these things really becomes a fuller blessing in the experience of those around you who share in it also?

Suggested Activity

On a sheet of paper that you will fold up and carry with you this week as a reminder, list the names of actual people you know to whom you can relate in a new way according to this list of promises from Jesus.   Is there someone in your life for whom you only have contempt or conflict?  How can you be “poor in spirit” in your conversations with them?  Do you know someone who is consumed by a lifestyle of destructive behavior or shallow thrill?  Can your “hunger and thirst for righteousness” provide a suggestion of another way to live?  Is there someone in your life who needs mercy and forgiveness from you or others?  Can you show mercy and forgiveness to that person, knowing that it may not be received or returned?   Are you afraid of the consequences of representing the love of God in Christ Jesus to others in word and/or deed?  Recall that the promise of verses 11 and 12 are not just that you have a heavenly consolation for your courage and trouble, but that there may be others nearby who have desperately needed to hear and see the witness of someone who believes that God’s grace can really make a difference.   Who in your life could benefit from that witness?

Let this list of people be your personal prayer list for the week and also your reminder that God’s promises for following Christ as described here in Matthew 5 are true!

Closing Prayer

Lord Jesus, giver of every blessing, we rejoice that the wisdom and promises you first shared with your disciples has come down to us and still remains true today.  Help us to come to you as your followers did in those days and to welcome your word with gladness, even as it calls us to repentance and service.   We lift before you for your blessings all those whose spirits call out for relief and righteousness, all who mourn the loss of loved ones, who feel disenfranchised and isolated, and whose fondest desire is that they could feel strong enough to show mercy and forgiveness in the face of persecution and hatred.  Give us, along with all your people, joy and gladness for the reward that is ours in your kingdom.

January 19-25–To Fish or Not to Fish

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

Warm-up Question

Have you ever been fishing? Are you a “catch-and-release” or “keep-and-eat” fisher?

To Fish or Not to Fish

It seems that we’ve been concerned for decades about overfishing. Commercial fisheries have depleted the stocks of valuable fish for human consumption to the point that the stocks have dried up. Businesses and ways of life for people who depend on commercial fishing have dried up. That could be changing.

Steve Murawski, who was, until recently, the chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service, believes that this year will be the first time on record (since 1900) that US fishermen won’t overfish any species. Read more at

Through management and quota systems, Murawski and others believe that the US has balanced the need to fish now with the need to preserve fish supplies for future years and future generations. Obviously, only time will tell if that is true.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you think the government should regulate how much people can fish? Why or why not?
  • What do you think is the biggest danger in overfishing? Is overfishing  a greater danger than people losing jobs in fishing?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, January 23, 2011 (Third Sunday after Epiphany)

Isaiah 9:1-4

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Matthew 4:12-23

(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

Jesus met some commercial fishermen. Simon Peter and Andrew weren’t just hobby fishermen. They weren’t having a relaxing day out on the boat. This was their job and their livelihood.  Their families and those they loved depended on them to make a good catch, sell it at the market,  and bring the proceeds home. Jesus invited them to a different way of life.

He invited them to lay down their fishing nets and pick up their people-fishing tools. Of course, in that moment, he did not describe to them how to fish for people or tell them what would be involved. They could only learn that through being with him all through his life: in fact, all the way through his death and resurrection.

And yet, with these seemingly large holes in their knowledge… they did it! They dropped their fishing nets and left their business behind. They left everything behind and followed.

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think Simon Peter and Andrew followed?
  • Would you have followed if Jesus had said this to you?
  • What is the best “bait” you have to fish for people as Jesus commanded us to do?

Activity Suggestion

Create an imaginary tackle box. Think of all the bait and tackle you have at your disposal to fish for people? What’s in it? What tools has God give you, personally and as a group?

Closing Prayer

Good and gracious God, we pray for your guidance as we fish for people. Give us the words and the tools we need. Most of all, give us the passion and the desire to share your good news with all those around us.  Amen.