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October 7, 2012–Poor Children

Contributed by Erik  Ullestad, West Des Moines, IA


Warm-up Question

What’s your favorite memory of when you were a child?

Poor Children

The school bell rings at Sampson Middle School.  Within seconds the campus is flooded with pre-teens who are on their way home.  Their evenings are filled with homework, texting, TV, and web surfing.  Jessica is one of a growing number of children with a slightly different routine.  She walks to the local shopping mall to do her homework in the food court.  When she finishes, Jessica looks around for uneaten food that hadn’t yet made it to the garbage.  From there, she heads to the parking lot and enters a rusty old van where her younger brother and parents welcome her “home” for the night.  Most of her classmates don’t know it, but Jessica is homeless.

Nearly 1.6 million children are homeless in the United States; approximately 1 of every 45 people under the age of 18.  Schools, churches, and social service agencies have seen needs rise among children and families in recent years.  Youth homelessness has risen 28% since 2007, a trend that doesn’t look to taper off any time soon.  Over 25% of children are living in poverty in America.  As their parents bring home smaller paychecks it becomes more difficult to pay the rent or mortgage.

Jessica goes to school early to shower in the locker room and finish her homework.  She gets good grades but she’s worried about keeping up, now that some of her teachers are requiring assignments to be turned in online.  She doesn’t have regular access to a computer and is afraid of asking to borrow someone else’s.  It is likely that her schoolwork will suffer if she remains homeless.  Children in this demographic area are more likely than their peers to suffer from hunger, educational deficiencies, illness, and psychological disorders.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you know any students in your school who are homeless?
  • How would your activities change if you had no home?
  • What would you say to a friend if they told you they are homeless?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, October 7, 2012 (Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

Genesis 2:18-24

Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12

Mark 10:2-16

(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 had been doing a lot of teaching and healing in recent days.  He took the disciples and went back to the wilderness near Judah.  It didn’t take long, however, for the crowds to find him there.  As he was teaching, the religious leaders showed up and tried to trick him.  They asked for Jesus’ thoughts on the divorce laws, which was a tricky topic.  The Torah (given to Moses) stated that only a man could initiate a divorce (Deut. 24:1-3).  Roman law, which applied to the land of Judah, permitted a woman to initiate divorce as well.  Ultimately, they were looking for Jesus to make a political statement about his allegiance.  Choosing sides would have had big repercussions for Jesus.

Instead of taking the bait, Jesus brought everything back to Creation.  He isn’t interested in splitting hairs over what is lawful.  Jesus reminds the people that the purpose of marriage is to create partnerships.  Marriage is a blessing that is intended to be life giving for both people.  When the relationship fractures and disintegrates, it is because of sin.

Martin Luther reminds us that sin is a condition.  Not only does everyone sin, but everyone is a sinner.  All of us are in need of God’s grace to forgive and redeem us.  As fellow sinners, it’s unhelpful for us to make a list of people’s sins, or presume that some sins are worse than others.  The missteps of ourselves and others reveal communal need of a Savior.

Many interpret Jesus’ comments on divorce as seeking to protect innocent people in relationships.  Verses 11-12 can be condensed and nuanced to say, “Whoever divorces their spouse for the purpose of marrying another person commits adultery.”  The idea of trading a spouse for a “better” often left the divorced person without a home, food, or family to support her.  As he has done so many times before, Jesus uses this discussion to demonstrate care for those in need.

From there, Jesus continues his advocacy for the helpless in society by chastising the disciples for keeping children from getting near to Jesus.  After all, children in those days were considered slightly more important than stray animals.  Jesus elevates their status by telling the disciples to aspire to being like the children in their attitude toward the kingdom of heaven.  Time after time, it is the least, the last, and the lowly among us that Jesus shows partiality to – and he calls us to do the same.

Discussion Questions

  • How successful were the Pharisees in tricking Jesus?
  • What do you think of Jesus’ answer about divorce?
  • How can someone “receive the kingdom of heaven like a child”?

Activity Suggestions

  • Have each person make a family tree.  Include as many branches as they know of.  Use this as an opportunity to talk about the blessing of family, in all kinds of different configurations.  Affirm God’s presence in these relationships, even in the imperfect ones.
  • Shelters for women and children provide care and safety for vulnerable people in society.  As a class, learn about how you can assist these organizations in your community.  Consider creating care packages or creative artwork for the shelters.

Closing Prayer

God, thank you for the gift of marriage, families, and children.  Help us to see your face in the faces of the people we see every day.  Give us patience when we are frustrated, and hope when we become discouraged.  Amen.

November 20, 2011–Sleeping Under the Stars So Kids Can Reach Them

Contributed by Angie Larson, Clive, IA

Warm-up Question

Would you sleep outside in a box? In the rain? In Iowa? When the weather is only 30 degrees?

Sleeping Under the Stars So Kids Can Reach Them

This past October 29th nearly 1,000 Iowans abandoned their warm beds and homes.  They left their dinners and Halloween parties to head to Drake University’s outdoor stadium to sleep in cardboard boxes or on the ground.  Does it sound like a crazy thing to do?  Especially when the temperature neared 30 degrees and it began to rain.  Reggie’s Sleepout ( began in 2001, after Reggie Kelsey died in the Des Moines River, three and a half months after he aged out of the foster care system.  During those months Reggie (who suffered disabilities) battled homelessness, stayed in shelters, and slept outside.  He was ill-equipped to live on his own.  After his tragic death, Des Moines took a hard look at itself and how it handled its over 3,000 homeless youth.  Reggie’s Sleepout was developed.  It’s not only a fundraiser for the Iowa Homeless Youth Centers but an awareness project for the community.  Participants spend one evening in the cold, raising awareness, learning, and listening to stories of youth who depend on shelters for survival in the cold Midwest.

When Mackenzie Devoto, a participant at Reggie’s Sleepout, was asked about why she chose to spend the night in a box she replied, “Helping others is part of who I am.  Learning about homelessness and the people it affects reminds me how lucky I am and also reminds me that because I’m so lucky I get to help them also.” After sleeping in the cold, participants reflect on how long the night feels when you have so little and how exhausted they are after just trying to stay warm.  It causes them to ask questions like, “What would it be like if I had to do this every day?” and “How would I be able function at work or get an education if I weren’t able to get a warm, soft night’s sleep?”


Discussion Questions

  •  Have you ever spent a night in the cold?  How did you feel the next morning?
  • What awareness projects are there in your community for youth homelessness?
  • How would you respond to Reggie Kelsey’s death?
  • At 18 years old would you be able to survive in the “real world”?  What resources would you use?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 20, 2011 (Christ the King Sunday)

 Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

Ephesians 1:15-23

Matthew 25:31-46

(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 Matthew chapter 25 Jesus brings us three different views of what to expect and how we are to be:   the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, the Parable of the Talents, and today’s text, the Judgment of the Nations. The king separates the sheep from the goats.  He tells the sheep that they will “inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world.”  He tells them that they clothed him, fed him, visited him, took care of him, gave him something to drink, and welcomed him.  The “sheep” are surprised and ask when they did this; surely they would have remembered serving the king.  The king responds that when they do it to anyone they do it to him. For the people who are the sheep, serving seems to be woven into the very fabric of who they are.  They serve others because they can and because they understand the importance and humanity in the service.  The giving is a reflection of their character.

At Reggie’s Sleepout the participants slept outside to better serve and understand homeless youth in their community.  They spent time, energy, and resources to provide clothing, food, visitation, welcoming, and safety for the teens.  They responded not only to learn, but to experience what it was like to be homeless; to walk in their shoes, if only for one evening.  There are many reasons why people from Des Moines participated in Reggie’s Sleepout, but for many of them it was a reflection of who they are and how they desire to help make the world a better place for others.

Discussion Questions

  •  How does your group or congregation live out their faith without even knowing it?
  • What are some things that you do to help others?
  • Who are some people who are under-served in your community?

Activity Suggestions

  •  Brainstorm ideas for your group to clothe, feed, visit, care for, or welcome someone in your community.  Implement that idea.
  • Host your own “Homeless Night Out.” Start by visiting a homeless shelter in your area, discover what their needs are and learn about the people they serve.  If you get the chance, visit with the homeless that use that shelter, get to know their stories.  Next develop your plan for your “Homeless Night Out.”
  • Listen to Ben Harper’s “Picture of Jesus” while looking at pictures of people in your community.

Closing Prayer

Dear Lord Jesus, Thank you for blessing us with this time together.  Open our hearts to your scriptures and our eyes to your people in need around us. Help giving and servanthood to become part of the fabric of who we are as people, so that when we respond, we continue to see the face of Jesus in all who surround us. Please use us Lord for your kingdom. Amen.

December 22-28–No Room

There is no Faith Lens this week but you might ponder…

"..and laid him in a manger because there was no room in the inn"

June 2-8, 2010–Blind Spots

Contributed by Jack Saarela, Lutheran Campus Pastor, Yale University 

Warm-up Question

It is much harder to see spelling and punctuation mistakes in something you have written than in it is to see the same mistakes in someone else’s work.  Why do you think that is? 

Blind Spots

Mark Horvath is a denizen of social media. He tells of a homeless man on Hollywood Boulevard who thought he was invisible. One day a kid handed the man a Christian pamphlet. The homeless man was shocked and amazed, “What?! You can see me? How can you see me? I’m invisible!” 

It isn’t hard to comprehend this man’s spiral into invisibility. Once on the street, people started to walk past him, ignoring him as if he didn’t exist. “It’s not that people are bad,” Horvath says, “but if we make eye contact, then we have to admit that they exist, and that we might have a basic human need to care. It’s so much easier to close our eyes and shield our hearts from their existence.” 

By way of invisible-people-tv, Horvath uses the lens of a television camera to tell the stories of homelessness and the organizations trying to help. His stated purpose is to make the invisible visible 

Discussion Questions

  • When you have encountered a homeless person on the streets of the town or city where you live, have you found yourself looking the other way? Can you say why? Does Horvath’s explanation above ring a bell?
  • Talk about a time when you looked at someone you thought you knew well, but at that moment, you felt as though you were seeing him or her for the very first time.
  • Have you yourself ever been in a situation where you felt invisible, as if everyone was looking past you and not seeing you? Say some more about it.

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, June 6, 2010 (Second Sunday After Pentecost)

1 Kings 17:17-24 

Galatians 1:11-24 

Luke 7:11-17 

(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

The woman in this gospel episode has at least two strikes against her, with the third one not far away. She is a widow, meaning, of course, that she has lost a husband. Now she is in a funeral procession behind the body of her only son. She has she lost two people whom she loves, and because in her society (as in many yet today), a woman is totally dependent for economic support on a male to whom she is bound (father, husband, brother-in-law, or son), she now has no means to live. 

One miracle that Jesus performs in this episode is the one identified by the heading for this text in the Oremus Bible Browser: “Jesus Raises the Widow’s Son at Nain.”  It’s true; he does, and to give new life to the dead is miracle enough. 

But what strikes me as at least as great a miracle is that out of the midst of the large crowd that came to meet Jesus and his disciples when they entered the town, Jesus should actually see this woman. To be sure, she is in a funeral procession. But in a land where death was regular visitor, a funeral procession would not be as noticeable as it is in our day. 

This woman is very ordinary, and now rendered absolutely powerless and helpless by tragedy in her life. I wonder how many in the crowd looked past her as they rushed to the town gates to see this phenom Jesus who was arriving. But Jesus brought both the crowd’s advance and the funeral procession itself to a halt by seeing the woman, taking notice of her–not only acknowledging her existence, but also addressing her grief and dire economic plight by returning to her the life of her son. 

It’s reminiscent of the New Testament story which is just about every child’s favorite.  Zaccheus climbs up into a tree in order to see Jesus, but is, as it turns out, seen by Jesus, and his life transformed as a result (Luke 19:1-10). There’s real power to heal and raise the dead in Jesus’ sight. 

Discussion Questions

  • Can you think of incidents in the gospels where Jesus performs the miracle of giving sight to someone? What role do you think having sight has in the life of a disciple of Jesus? 
  • Talk about a time when you were challenged to see someone else’s need in a new way. Did your insight move you to respond to that person’s need in any way? 
  • Are there individuals or groups of person who may be “invisible” at your church? Who is missing? Who is there, but hardly ever noticed? 

Activity Suggestions

  • Watch a story or two of homeless persons at:
  •  Pause for a few minutes to reflect on that person’s story. Then write your thoughts in the comments section, or e-mail them to a friend and send them the link to the site.

Closing Prayer

Jesus, healer of our every ill, we thank you for looking upon us and seeing us in all our complexity and need. Heal our vision that we may be able to see others as you see them. Amen.

December 30-January 6, Miracle After Mother Assaulted

Contributed by Erik Ullestad, West Des Moines, IA

Warmup Question

 Have you ever witnessed a miracle?  What happened?

 Miracle Born After Mother Assaulted

The temperatures are getting colder, snow is piling up, and homeless shelters are filled to capacity.  Such is the scene in cities the world over.  Washington D.C. is no different, claiming record snowfalls and near all-time highs in unemployment.  Teka Adams is one of the thousands of pregnant women who rest their heads in a homeless shelter.  She is in her third trimester, only a few weeks away from delivering her first child.  It is a time of excitement, fear, and wonder.

women and child This was the scene a few weeks ago, until Teka met Veronica at the shelter.  Veronica was moving into her own apartment soon.  She invited Teka to help her move, in exchange for food and baby clothes.  Teka agreed, her hope renewed by the chance to provide for her unborn child.  When they arrived at the apartment, things took a turn for the worst.  Veronica locked the door and tied Teka’s hands behind her back.  She came at Teka with a knife, saying, “You’re strong, you can handle what I’m going to do to you.”  Veronica then cut into Teka’s abdomen in an attempt to remove the baby.  A few months earlier, Veronica had lied to her friends and family, telling them that she was pregnant.  She was trying to remove Teka’s baby and take it as her own. 

 Before Veronica was able to remove the baby, Teka was able to escape.  Neighbors found her bleeding in a nearby parking lot.  Teka was taken to a hospital where doctors were able to heal her wounds and save the baby.  Both are expected to make a full recovery.  The baby – a girl – was named Miracle.



  • What do you know about the homeless population in your community?
  • Why do you think someone would fake a pregnancy and try to steal someone else’s baby?
  • If you were related to Veronica, how would you respond to her?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, January 3, 2010 (Second Sunday of Christmas)

(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.

 Jeremiah 31:7-14

Ephesians  1:3-14

John 1:[1-9] 10-18


Today is the second Sunday of Christmas, but the gospel lesson is not a traditional Christmas story.  There are no tales of shepherds, angels, mangers, or innkeepers.  Instead, John talks about the Word, which we often assume to represent Jesus.  He traces the Word back to the creation of the world.  He even uses the same phrase as Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning…” – to indicate that there is a connection between what God created in Genesis and what God created in the birth of Jesus.  The Word was with God, the Word was God, and the word became flesh in the person of Jesus.

 In addition to “the Word” John mentions two other important things in the opening chapter of his gospel.  The first is John the Baptist.  John the gospel writer and John the Baptist were two different people.  The author was “the beloved disciple”, a brother of James and the son of Zebedee.  John the Baptist was the one who pointed the way to Jesus and was eventually beheaded for his blasphemy.  When Jesus was around, there were many people who thought that John the Baptist was the messiah (or “the Word”).  John the writer wants to make sure that readers know that John the Baptist was an important person, but was not the one.

 John also talks about Jesus’ purpose on earth.  On one hand, Jesus will be rejected by the very people he came to save.  On the other hand, he brings “grace upon grace”, truth, and the power to become children of God.  Jesus comes with good news, but not everyone will be ready to receive it.  He will be tested, questioned, beaten, and even put to death.  He comes to teach, to inspire, and, ultimately, to sacrifice his life so that we might live.  What a miracle that God loves us this much!


  • What is the importance of making a connection between God creating the world and God sending Jesus into the world?
  • Why do you think John chose to refer to Jesus as “the Word” instead of just calling him by name?
  • Would you describe Jesus’ coming into the world as a “miracle”?  Why or why not?
  • How does the miracle of Jesus’ arrival on earth inspire you?



Gather colorful paper, markers, glitter, and other decorative items.  Create greeting cards for new mothers in your community.  These could be for women in your neighborhood, church, workplace, or a women’s homeless shelter.  Look for some verses in Scripture that would give hope to someone who had given birth.  (Consider portions of today’s gospel or the Advent and Christmas stories in Matthew or Luke.)  Talk as a group about how you plan to deliver these cards during the week.



God, thank you for the miracle of Jesus’ birth.  We praise you for loving us so much that you forgive our sins and give us the promise of eternal life.  Help us to give hope to those who have none.  Give us the inspiration that comes in the form of a baby, born in a feeding trough, who brings light and life to the world.  Amen