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January 5-11, 2011–We Will Live!

Contributed by Jay Gamelin, pastor at Jacob’s Porch, a Lutheran campus mission to The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

Warm-up Question

What are some rituals you do every day when you first get up; is there anything special you may do?  Is there something you do every night before going to sleep?  Where do these rituals come from?

We Shall Live!

photo by Carol Guzy/Washington Post

When the two women were trapped under the rubble, all was darkness.  The earthquake had flattened their university classroom in Haiti and the five floors above them were now on top of them.  Only the light of one cell phone showed the situation.  One woman had her leg trapped; the other had just a small pocket of space amid the rubble in which to move.  The two women had shared a class and knew each other’s name.  They became more than friends.  They were companions through a terrible ordeal.

For six days they took turns yelling for help.  When they heard voices they knew it was day.  When the voices were gone they assumed it must be night.  They had nothing to drink and just a few crumbs from a cookie to eat.  But the two prayed, sang hymns, talked about boys, and rested when they could.

After six days, one woman said to the other, “We are not going to live.”  The other encouraged her to hang on and have hope.  She began talking about their life ahead.  She spoke of the conversations they would have in a year, remembering this time together.  Suddenly, the world changed.  Light poured in and they were pulled out.  Malnourished, feeble–but alive, they separated on the way to health stations, hoping to see one another again.

One year later, the women talk and reminisce about the horrific time in that small hole in the rubble.  One woman is missing her leg; the other says she has nightmares.  But they laugh when they meet. They still talk about boys.  They remember that hope is what brought them through the valley of the shadow of death.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever faced need and not able to get what you needed?  If you have, how did this feel?
  • If you have not, imagine what it would feel like to see others enjoying great wealth while you were hungry?  What would you do to support your family?  What if you were not able to do so?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, January 9, 2011 (Baptism of Our Lord)

Isaiah 42:1-9

Acts 10:34-43

Matthew 3:13-17

(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

It is confusing: why would Jesus want to be baptized? This Jesus, who has done nothing but live righteously, comes to be baptized, to be “forgiven” of sins.  Clearly John sees this is not the way it should be and tries to stop the event.  But Jesus knows something about this holy moment.  Jesus knows that he is pointing the world to a whole new reality.  Jesus is becoming a model for what the rest of us are to do and be.

When Jesus was baptized, he did this to “fulfill all righteousness.”  Typically this means to be righteous under the law.  Jesus is following a “rule of faith” as a way of showing the rest of us what we are to do.  As Jesus comes up from the water, a voice declares that he is righteous and beloved, a source of pleasure for the speaker.  Jesus is made righteous.  The law is no longer the rule but is fulfilled in baptism.

Often we think this is a voice for Jesus alone, but it expresses as much what God thinks of us as what God thinks of Jesus.  When we are baptized, God is well pleased.  This is done to forgive sins, to be sure, but it makes us family.  We are made righteous.  We are brought from death to life, just as Jesus was brought from death to life.  Baptism binds us to God as Jesus was bound to God.  It shows us that Jesus’ path of suffering and hope is our path also.  Jesus becomes our companion in this journey, as do all who are baptized into God’s family.

The two women in Haiti were baptized by shared suffering into a relationship they had not expected, but it was being bound to one another that brought hope and life.  They lived together through the dark and found one another in the light.  Our baptism is about having a companion in our own darkness and knowing that light is coming.

Discussion Questions

  • What is the darkest place you have ever been?  What was it like in the darkness?
  • Were you afraid of the dark as a child?  What did you do when you were afraid?  How did this help?
  • Think of a dark time in your life.  Who was there to be beside you?  Who was a person that helped bring light to you when you felt the darkness?
  • How was this person Jesus for you?  What did this person’s actions tell you about how Jesus is at work in, through, and for you?

Activity Suggestion

“Though I walk in darkness…”

Materials:  Bandanas, cloth, or other way to make blindfolds for half the group.

Break the group into pairs.  Have each person in the pair take a turn being blindfolded and led by their partner. Explain to the group to take this exercise very seriously.  You are to be trusted.  Give the group a destination, perhaps to the sanctuary or other place that they must negotiate their way.  Then the other person is led back to where you began.  You can provide obstacles, or direct them to a tricky route to make the event more or less difficult as desired.


  • Did you trust your partner?  Why or why not?  Were you surprised by anything they did or didn’t do?
  • What was helpful about having a partner?  How would this activity be different if you did not have a partner?
  • Name some folks in your church who you think are a role model of faith.  What is it about their walk that you admire?  How are they helping you in your walk?  What ways do they help “enlighten” (i.e. teach, show, help, provide an example) you when you feel like you are in the “dark?” (confused, not understanding, or being plain ole’ selfish)

Closing Prayer

God, we are your beloved and with us you are pleased.  Thank you for all you give us to help us in our journey, especially the people who join us in baptism to be your children.  Thank you for our role model, Jesus, who shows us the way.  Thank you for the role models in our friends and church members who lighten the path.  Hear us lift these role models up to you, aloud and in our hearts…. (allow time for names to be spoken or prayed for silently).  Thank you for these partners in hope and light.  We pray this in the name of our savior, Jesus.  AMEN.

November 3-9, 2010–Doing More Harm Than Good?

Contributed by Jen Krausz, Bethlehem, PA

Warm-up Question

How do you decide whether to help someone?

Doing More Harm Than Good?

Nine months after a devastating earthquake killed over 250,000 people, many Haitians and international experts say that the millions of dollars given in aid has actually caused infrastructure and business shutdowns, and may be hurting the nation more than it has helped.

After the 7.0 magnitude earthquake, food, shelter and medical assistance poured into the already poor country.  American and French doctors came and treated thousands of injuries.  Although many Haitians still live in tents after their shacks and cement brick homes were destroyed, most people now have access to food, clean water and basic medical care.

The unfortunate and unforeseen drawback of all this generosity, however, is that existing hospitals, stores and pharmacies have had to shut down because there is much less demand for their products and services. Some fear that the aid will actually leave the country worse off than it was before.

Nurse Beth Middleton says she has doctors handing her resumes, forced to live in tents despite their education and experience. “The healthcare that was in place before the earthquake was crippled by the relief effort,” she says. “Pharmacies closed because of all the free drugs, and doctors lost all their patients.” The middle class is finding it hard to find jobs, she says, and pay for their housing and their kids’ school fees.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, over 12,000 non-governmental organizations have provided aid. Some of these are doing good work, but it is difficult to tell what many are doing, if anything at all. Furthermore, some say these organizations are not doing very well working together or working with governmental agencies to best help the people of Haiti. Some fear  that many organizations will pull out of Haiti without making sure that the people are able to help themselves.

Dig a little deeper:

Discussion Questions

  • Do you know anyone who has helped or donated money to the Haiti relief effort? (The ELCA has donated over 4.6 million dollars to Haiti Relief—
  • How does it feel to help someone, whether face-to-face or by giving money?
  • Have you ever seen someone get helped and be worse off afterward?
  • How can we Christians help in ways which leave others better off and ultimately independent?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 7, 2010 (All Saints Sunday)

 Daniel  7:1-3, 15-18

Ephesians 1:11-23

Luke 6:20-31

(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 a hard teaching some of this is for those of us who live in America! You might not feel rich, but the average American is in the top 1% of the world as far as income level. All those “woe to yous” could very well apply to us. That’s something to think about next time we go to the all-you-can-eat buffet, isn’t it?

Jesus isn’t saying that we will be punished for having stuff or that it’s wrong to eat a big meal. It’s when we focus on getting more stuff, or better stuff, while neglecting the really important things in life that Jesus has a problem with us. If our focus is on caring about people, taking care of our responsibilities, helping those who truly can’t help themselves, and loving God, then we will be blessed. And if we focus on material things and ourselves, then we’ve already had our reward. That’s pretty simple.

The last part of this teaching is definitely the hardest. Loving those who love us is hard enough. But loving our enemies? Doing something nice for someone who is going to turn around and stab you in the back is just about the hardest thing Jesus asks us to do. It goes against everything in us! It’s exactly the opposite of what the world does and expects us to do. Are we really supposed to just let people take our stuff and not do anything about it? Who does that?  Almost nobody.

Elsewhere in scripture Jesus makes it clear that Christians are supposed to be different from the rest of the world. (See, for example, Matthew 5:13-16) We’re supposed to go so far beyond the way the rest of the world behaves, that the world will look at us and say, “Maybe they are really about something real and special.” When we are unlike anything else in the world, people sit up and take notice. Some even get drawn in when they realize that they want what we have.

Discussion Questions

  • What part of the gospel reading seems the hardest to you? Which part do you most identify with?
  • Have you ever done something nice for an “enemy” (meaning someone you don’t like, or who doesn’t like you, or who has treated you badly in the past)? What happened, if anything, as a result?
  • As a Christian, what makes you different from other people you know?
  •  Do you think God wants us to help people even if it makes them dependent or if it makes their situation worse? Is it possible that sometimes the best way to help someone is to do nothing so that they learn to help themselves?

Activity Suggestions

One way to truly help people is to provide the resources they need to become independent—to help others help themselves. There are organizations which do this.  For example, Heifer International provides animals to families struggling with poverty. Providing something as simple as a flock of chicks or a goat enables that family to make an income from the eggs, the milk, and later the meat of those animals. Part of the agreement in receiving an animal is to share its offspring with neighbors, “passing on the gift.”

Brainstorm ways your group or class could help someone in your community or elsewhere in the world. There are probably organizations right in your community to which you can donate money or volunteer time—your leader or pastor may be able to help. Even writing letters of encouragement can be a great help to someone in need

Dear God, Thank you for hard teachings. May we have ears to hear them. Help us to be willing to do the hard things, to show love even to our enemies. We pray that others will sense your presence in our lives as we follow you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Closing Prayer

Dear God, Thank you for hard teachings. May we have ears to hear them. Help us to be willing to do the hard things, to show love even to our enemies. We pray that others will sense your presence in our lives as we follow you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

April 21-27, 2010–Protector and Defender

Contributed by Angie Larson, Clive, Iowa

Warm-up Question

What does it feel like to be protected?

Protector and Defender

On January 12, 2010 a 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook the small country of Haiti. Among the stories of devastation are stories of hope. 

Frank and June Williams and their three daughters, Angie, Dawn and Pria; and two sons, Trevor and Mike, are Haitian residents.  Frank is one of the directors of World Vision in Haiti.  The apartment in which his family lived in Port-au-Prince collapsed, leaving June, Dawn and Pria trapped inside. Frank, who was outside, used a flashlight to frantically search for his family within the rubble. 

June recounts the earthquake this way in an e-mail to a friend, “There was a loud, deep rumble and the earth shook and shifted.  I couldn’t move my feet, I could only throw the girls down under me and under the archway.  Five stories of concrete and tile came down on us.  I looked at my hands that were covering the girl’s heads. My hands couldn’t protect them from anything. Yet, we were not crushed.  Five foot ceiling slabs came down.  Our heads were embedded with concrete. It was an absolute miracle.  I’ve determined that there must have been a great big, strong angel standing over us, and smaller pieces of rubble were being sifted through his wings and landed on us.”

June, Dawn, and Pria survived.  When the quake stopped they quickly ran from the apartment building through an opening in the outer wall.  A second tremor brought down the rest of the building as they were running for a mountainside. They took refuge under a tree.  A Canadian man helped them down and took them to his house, where he cared for them with a first-aid kit.  The three settled their thoughts on hope until they were reunited with their father, older brothers and sister.

Discussion Questions

  • Would you lean towards hope or despair in this situation?
  • Do you consider June a heroine?  Why or why not?
  • How were June and her daughters protected?
  • What would you say to the families of those who did not survive the earthquake?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 25, 2010 (Fourth Sunday of Easter)

Acts 9:36-43

Revelation 7:9-17

John 10:22-30

(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

In the gospel lesson for this week Jesus is defending his identity.  The Pharisees gather around Jesus like journalists trying to entrap a corrupt senator.  They question who he is, hoping that he will claim his identity as the Messiah. If Jesus claims this identity, they will likely stone him for blasphemy.  They desire to accuse and discredit him and also incriminate his disciples.  They have seen his miraculous actions but still refuse to believe who he is.

Jesus says his disciples are different.  In contrast to the Pharisees, who are trying to avoid the evidence in front of their eyes, Jesus’ followers enjoy a special and blessed relationship to God. He gives them a sense of belonging and identity.  They are his and he knows them intimately.  Not only does he know them, but he gives them protection and eternal life.  In me, says Jesus, my disciples know the love and care of the Father.

This gift is for us too.  Tragedy will come and shake our lives. We will lose people we love.  We will be tempted to despair.  Some days the challenges will seem overwhelming. Jesus tells us that no one will snatch us out of his hand.  He gives us his protection and defense.  His actions are even louder than his words.  June Williams placed her body over her daughters during the Haitian earthquake.  With her parental love, she protected her daughters.  So too did Jesus offer his body as a sign of his love for us.  Jesus assures us that he will hold us in his hands.  Following Jesus doesn’t mean difficulty won’t befall us, but it does mean God will hold us when it does.

Discussion Questions

  • How does Jesus’ protection give you hope?
  • What are some ways that Jesus’ actions spoke louder than his words?
  • Jesus keeps his followers from being snatched up.  What in our world can snatch up people?  How can Jesus protect us from those things?  What can we do to follow him?

Activity Suggestions

  • Do a fundraiser for Haitian relief. 
  • Look on the ELCA website for stories of Haitian relief effort.
  • Draw a bulls-eye for the students:  five concentric circles, each bigger than the previous one.  Ask them to label the center circle with someone whom they protect, (for example, children they care for or the homeless). Ask them to label the next circle with their name.  Ask them to think of someone who protects them to label in the third circle, (for example, parents or teachers).  In the final circle ask them to write in “Jesus.”  Have them process what it means to be a protector and to be protected.

Closing Prayer

Blessed Savior, thank you for knowing and choosing us.   It feels so good to be chosen, Lord.  Thank you for your protection.  Please help us to protect those people whom you have entrusted to our care that, through our actions, they may see you.  Open our eyes to see the ways we question your claim on our lives and help us to remember that you have chosen as your beloved children and disciples.  In your name we pray, Amen.