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Faith Lens

May 4, 2014–Something About the Face

Contributed by Scott Moore, Erfurt, Germany


Warm-up Question

What is the first thing you notice about someone else?

Something About the Face

shutterstock_162110726editBoth Facebook and the FBI are working very hard to develop current face recognition software to be able to perfectly identify any person with just a picture of their face. Face recognition systems rely on two features in order to be successful: a data base of pictures of faces  and biometrics, which are the way a computer measures all the details of someone’s face and turns them into a mathematical algorithm and plots them on a chart in the form of data that can be analyzed and compared. The more pictures the face recognition system has, the greater the chances are the computer can make more accurate comparisons.

The US government, according to some sources, wants to compile a database large enough to be able to identify every individual in the United States. Facebook, in comparison, is equally interested in growing their database of face prints, but not in order to catch terrorists. Instead, Facebook wants to make the user experience friendlier by being able to identify friends for you tag in your pictures and perhaps even sell information about where you have been and who you were with.

There are groups very concerned about this capture of our identity and its potential abuse. What would it mean if the government could identify us and our whereabouts and our actions at any given time? Even as exciting as some of this technology is, there seems to be something attractive about being able to remain anonymous when we want to. Can we have both?


Discussion Questions

  • What is your feeling about face recognition software?
  • Where do you think we should draw the line as a society concerning our personal identity?
  • Have you ever had biometric data recorded? (ex. Finger prints at borders like at the airport when traveling?)
  • Do you spend a lot of time posting lots of pictures (selfies) on various social media sites? Do you know how your images are being used?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 4, 2014 (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

Jesus has died a horrible death. His followers have been cast into fear and despair. The faithful women who went to the tomb, however, saw a vision of angels claiming that he is not dead. He has been raised. The crucified one is alive. One would think that his followers would be the ones that could recognize Jesus immediately. They’ve watched him and listened to him for years. They have spent days and nights with him. They would know his face anywhere. Yet, Jesus is able to walk up to faithful followers on the road and engage them in conversation without them recognizing who he is. He hears their grief and explains to them by interpreting scripture why all these things were supposed to happen.

As they reached their destination, Jesus starts to head on his way. The disciples offer him hospitality and ask him to stay with them because it is getting dark and dangerous on the road. He agrees and something crazy happens. Instead of them being the host, Jesus takes over the role at the dinner table and does something that he has done before. He takes the bread, blesses it and breaks it, and gives it to them.  Take, bless, break, and give. These are the actions of Jesus when he shared the last supper with his disciples. Take, bless, break, share. This is what we do when we gather at the Lord’s table today. Jesus face was hidden from them on the road. In Jesus action at the table they recognize the Lord. As soon, as they see him for who he is, he disappears. They are left with a memory of their entire walk. They see it all clearer now. They felt strong emotions of love and passion on the walk that they now understand, “were not our hearts burning within us?” they say.

This story of a simple walk among friends at a time of grief and pain becomes a model for our Christian walk. Jesus walks with us even when we aren’t able to recognize him. Jesus speaks to us even at our darkest hour even when everything around us tries to drown out his sweet voice. Jesus shares himself with us in holy words and in holy actions even when we find it sometimes difficult to see him in that. Jesus takes a conversation in grief and turns it into joy. Jesus takes simple bread that we have to offer and makes it into a meal where we can see and understand him, and maybe ourselves, in a new light. He blesses our walks through life, our talks about God’s word, and he blesses this meal that he has given to us. It is a gift that is supposed to open our eyes. It is meal that we are called to share in remembrance and recognition of him.

Discussion Questions

  • When have you recognized Jesus in the Eucharist/Holy Communion?
  • When do you feel more open to sharing in this meal of Holy Communion? When do you find it more difficult?
  • When do feel like the Eucharistic meal is a personal meal and when do you feel that it is a community meal?
  • In what other meals have you ever recognized Jesus?
  • Have you ever felt that your “heart was burning” when you have been talking about the bible with others?
  • What do you think your worshiping community could do in order to help everyone recognize Jesus more in this holy meal?

Activity Suggestions

Let’s Find Jesus Meal–Bring food for the participants (donuts, fruit, etc.) Invite them to take some food and either alone or in pairs to find a location within the church/facility where they recognize Jesus. Give them a few minutes to enjoy their meal. Invite them back to share where they ate and why.

Closing Prayer

Lord of Resurrection, you have walked with us along our journey in life. You have encouraged us and given us strength in difficult times and you have rejoiced with us in times of joy. Walk with us and share yourself with us now when we share in your word and when we break bread together. Show us your face and give us the grace to recognize you every step of our lives. We ask this in the name of the one who walks with us always, Jesus Christ, the Risen One. Amen

June 23-29, 2010–Strangers in a Strange Land

Contributed by Eric Ullestad,West Des Moines, IA

Warm-up Question

If you had to suddenly move to a new town and could only take three things with you, what would you take and why?

Strangers in a Strange Land

Escalating ethnic violence has prompted over 120,000 Kyrgyzstan (KUR-gi-stahn) refugees to flood into the neighboring country of Uzbekistan.  Fighting broke out on June 9 in the Kyrgyzstan city of Osh between ethnic Kyrgyzs and Uzbeks.  Within three days, the violence had spread to Jalal-Abad, which required the interim government leader, Roza Otunbayeva, to declare a state of emergency.  These skirmishes reflect a larger state of unrest in Krygyzstan since president Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in April.

The official death toll is around 200, but local Kyrgyz and Uzbek leaders estimate that number will be over 1,000 by the end of the month.  Though the violence was initiated by ethnic groups of Kyrgyzs against Uzbeks, the Foreign Ministry of Uzbekistan has offered their country as a safe haven for Kyrgyzs who fear for their lives.  The United Nations has declared the situation a “humanitarian crisis” and called for countries all over the world to send aid.  The United States, Germany, and Russia, have been among the first to respond.  “There is an urgent need for food, water, tents, and medical supplies,” said one Red Cross volunteer.  “Nearly half a million people are homeless.  They need help now!”

Discussion Questions

  • What have you heard about Kyrgyzstan in the last few weeks?
  • How would it feel to be one of the 400,000 displaced by the violence?
  • What are ways that our country can help bring an end to the fighting?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, June 27, 2010  (Fifth Sunday after Pentecost)

1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Luke 9:51-62

(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

Much like the news coming out of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, the gospel text is about two things – hospitality and urgency.  Prior to the events of Luke 9:51-62, Jesus has been very busy.  He empowered and sent the disciples to preach, teach, and heal.  He fed five thousand men (plus women and children) with five loaves of bread and two fish.  He became transfigured on a mountain in the presence of Peter, John, and James (not to mention the ghosts of Elijah and Moses).  He even healed a demon-possessed boy.  Talk about a busy couple of weeks!

Jesus sets out for Jerusalem and realizes that he will need a place to sleep along the way.  He sends messengers ahead to a Samaritan village to see if they would host Jesus for the night.  Because of ethnic and religious differences, the Samaritans refused to let Jesus into the village.  James and John are ready to respond by wiping the village off the face of the earth.  However, Jesus wants no part of a violent response to the Samaritan’s lack of hospitality.  Instead, they find another village.

The second section of the gospel text demonstrates the urgency of discipleship.  Jesus approaches two people with invitations to follow him.  Both men are willing to follow, but one wants to take a day to bury his dead father and the other wants to say goodbye to his family.  To many these requests seem reasonable.  However, Jesus implores them to follow him immediately and not waste their time with farewells.  Why?  Perhaps he knows that if these people return to their loved ones, it becomes less likely that they will return to follow Jesus.  It’s also possible that Jesus has work for them to start right away and can’t afford to let them waste any time.

We can discern a lot of things about the nature of Jesus from the end of Luke 9.  Specifically, Jesus refuses to use his power to punish people and he has a sense of urgency for people who want to follow him. 

Discussion Questions

  • How would you respond to someone who refused hospitality to one of your friends?
  • How do you feel about Jesus’ sense of urgency in talking to a would-be follower?  Why wouldn’t Jesus let the man take a day to bury his father before joining Jesus?
  • What do you think Jesus means when he says “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God”?  How would you feel if Jesus said this to you right after one of your parents died?
  • If Jesus were physically present today, what words might he have for the people of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, based on his words and actions in Luke 9:51-62?

Activity Suggestions

Contact your local Red Cross to see how you can help respond to the crisis in Kyrgyzstan.  This might include assembling care packages, writing letters to displaced families, or collecting a special offering for money to send.  Remember to pray for the people who have been affected by the violence in that region.

Closing Prayer

God, help us to show your hospitality and care for those in need.  Give us a sense of urgency in sharing the good news of your son, Jesus, with the whole world.  Thank you for the gifts you give us.  Amen

October 8-15, 2008 – Isn’t it nice to be invited?

Warm-up Question: How does it feel to be invited to something special?

It seemed like a typical Wednesday at Waukee High School. Maddie and Kaitlyn met before school at their lockers. They talked about their weekend plans. Both had planned to go out to dinner together then go to the Friday night football game. Kaitlyn was excited to talk to Maddie about the post-game party at Adrienne’s house. When she brought up the subject she could quickly recognize the look on Maddie’s face. Maddie hadn’t been invited to the post-game party. Maddie shrugged it off as no big deal and that she had to be home early on Friday anyway because of a commitment early on Saturday morning. She lied so Kaitlyn wouldn’t feel bad. The bell rang, the awkward moment ended, and the friends departed to their first classes.

Maddie spent the rest of the day in personal despair. She asked herself many questions about why she didn’t get invited. Did Adrienne not like her? Had she done something to offend her? They weren’t really that close anyway, how could she expect Adrienne to invite her? She was even a bit mad at Kaitlyn for being invited, but she realized it wasn’t her fault. Not being invited caused Maddie to feel rejection and a lack of acceptance. Her feelings were hurt. She went home and cried.

The weekend came and went. Maddie went home after the football game and her friend, Kaitlyn, headed to the post-game party. Maddie eventually got over it, but never forgot the feeling. She tried to keep this in mind when she saw others not being invited to events that she was invited to.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever not been invited to something you wanted to go to? Have you ever been invited to something you didn’t want to go to?
  • What do you think Kaitlyn felt when she learned that Maddie wasn’t invited?
  • How do you think you would have responded?
  • What can we do as Christians to invite others?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, October 12, 2008.
(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 A at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Scripture Reflection

In the Gospel, Jesus tells the story of a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sends out the message to those who he hopes will come. His messengers depart to go and tell them that the feast is ready. The king’s invited guests respond in different ways. Some ignore his invitation, some leave, some go about their business, and some even mistreat the messengers inviting them to the banquet. The king realizes that those who he has invited are unworthy and sends his messengers to gather people from the streets and fill the hall with guests; making those who seem unworthy, worthy.

Christ invites us all into the banquet of heaven with him. What a great and generous invitation! It feels so good to be invited. Christ gives us this invitation into a relationship with him yet many people turn down the invitation of the Holy Spirit to live their lives alongside Jesus and guided by him. When Christ is trying to speak to you how do you respond? Do you continue about your business? Do you ignore it or leave? Do you mistreat those who may be speaking the good news to you, just because you don’t want to hear it?

Acceptance and love is something that all people crave at the core of their being. With Christ, acceptance and love are continuously extended to us. As Christians, we are invited to share this acceptance with others. We have the opportunity to live fearlessly, knowing that we are loved and part of Christ’s kingdom. We are accepted by Christ and never rejected. Living fearlessly through our acceptance gives us the courage to share the good news with others, including — and especially — people in need of hope, healing, God’s love, and new life.

Discussion Questions

  • What is one way Christ speaks to your heart?
  • How do you respond to his invitation?
  • Do you think that living a life of acceptance in Christ enables us to live fearlessly? What things in life can cause us to back away from living our faith boldly, fearlessly? What things or people stir up our strength and courage of faith to live fearlessly?

Activity Suggestion

  • Have an intergenerational congregational birthday party. Send out invitations for all ages. Assign people to sit at intergenerational and family-mixed tables based on the month of their birth. Have a devotion led by different age people, play games, eat cake, and celebrate the diversity of life experiences.
  • Send letters to your congregation’s shut-ins. Offer an invitation to go and visit them. Go visit!

Closing Prayer

Blessed Savior, thank you for inviting us to your kingdom. Help us to remember to invite others, knowing that there are great gifts and blessings in this invitation. Bless those who feel like they live their lives on the fringe or are rejected or disconnected. Enable us to extend graciousness and generosity to their lives. In your name we pray. Amen

Contributed by Angie Larson
Clive, IA