Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

Faith Lens

March 30, 2014–Was Blind But Now I See

Contributed by Dennis Sepper, Tacoma, WA


Warm-up Question

Have you ever seen a miracle happen?  What was it and how did it change you or your view of God and/or the world?

Was Blind But Now I See

At 14 years old, Lisa Reid and her family had a hard decision to make.  Lisa had a cancerous brain tumor that was causing her headaches, vomiting and loss of coordination.  Her only choice was a delicate operation to remove the tumor and save her life.  However, as a consequence of the surgery Lisa’s optic nerves were damaged and she became blind.

shutterstock_110721512editDeciding not to let her blindness hold her down, Lisa became a poster child for children with cancer.  She appeared on television shows and in documentaries across New Zealand.  She also made promotional appearances to help raise money for the organization that trained her seeing-eye dog, Amy.

Ten years after her sight was taken away by cancer, Lisa tripped and fell hitting her head on a coffee table and on the floor.  She got up, as she had done before, and went to bed.  The next morning when she opened her eyes she could see the white of her ceiling.  Looking around she saw light shining through the curtains and then she looked and saw her beloved dog Amy.  Lisa’s sight had come back, not perfectly, but it was back.

The doctors were skeptical.  There was no medical explanation for how Lisa regained her sight.  Her optic nerves, which have no power to regenerate themselves, were still damaged.  The doctors tried to explain her sight by saying that Lisa may have recovered from a blindness that had been more psychological rather than physical from the start.  “I don’t believe in miracles,” said Dr. Ross McKay.  That doesn’t matter to Lisa, all she knows is that once she was blind but now she sees.

In this week’s gospel text we meet a man blind from birth who is given back his sight by Jesus.  The religious leaders are skeptical and try to find excuses for the healing.  However, the man knows that it was Jesus who healed him and he knows, like Lisa, that once he was blind but now he sees.  His only response is to worship Jesus.

 More on Lisa Reid’s story

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think of Lisa’s story?  Was it a miracle?  Why or why not?
  • Do you think people are open to miracles or are they skeptical like Dr. Ross?
  • Some would say that miracles are in the “eye of the beholder”.  What do you think that means? Do you agree with that statement?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, March 30, 2014 (Fourth Sunday in Lent)

1 Samuel 16:1-13

Ephesians 5:8-14

John 9:1-41

(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 Gospel writer John is a great storyteller.  In this story of the encounter of Jesus and the man blind from birth, John’s major point is that Jesus is the “Light of the World” and the Messiah (here noted as the “Son of Man”).  In order to make his point, John uses a storytelling trick whereby the blind man gains his physical sight and then as the story progresses his eyes of faith become more and more clear until he sees Jesus as the Messiah and worships Jesus.  At the same time, the spiritual eyes of the religious leaders are beginning to dim and finally Jesus hints that the Pharisees are blind to God’s work in the world.

Along the way in this story there are several things that are unique to John and John’s gospel which speak to us today.  Among them are the following:

Notice that Jesus was walking along, saw the blind man and went over to heal him.  In the other Gospels people need to have at least a little faith for the miracle to happen.  In John the miracles happen first and then people are moved to faith.  At first all the blind man knew was that “some guy by the name of Jesus put mud on my eyes and now I see.”  The good news here is that God comes to people even if they do not, at first, have any faith.  God’s love touches all people not just those who are with the “in” crowd.

Next, the blind man’s faith grows as a result of being questioned by the religious leaders (he “sees” even more clearly).  In this story the man goes from calling Jesus just “some guy” to calling him a prophet and then finally seeing Jesus as the Messiah and worshiping Jesus.  There are some Christians in our day who see questions as a bad thing.  However, I would note that Jesus never scolded anyone for asking a question…even when the question seemed to signify that the person did not understand what Jesus was saying.

As Lutherans we welcome questions and discussions and even debates as a way of searching for the truth and growing our faith.  Also note that the man’s faith grew slowly as he came to understand who Jesus really was and what that meant for his life and for the world.  We have to respect the fact that we and others can be at different places along the line of gaining faith and an understanding of Jesus.  Some might say Jesus is person, others that he is a good teacher, some that he is a prophet and then others who say “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  It’s okay to have your faith in Jesus grow slowly.

Finally in John’s gospel miracles are called “signs”.  In John’s gospel the miracles are never an end to themselves but point to something beyond the miracle itself.  Here the healing of the blind man is a sign that points to Jesus as the Light of the World.  Today Jesus is still the Light of the World shining into the dark places of our lives, the lives of those we love and into the life of the world.  By faith we can clearly catch a glimpse of God’s reign and of Jesus’ presence in the world today.

Discussion Questions

  • We often see the Lenten season as a journey of faith.  Given the story of the man born blind where do you see yourself on this journey?  Who is Jesus to you?
  • Do you think questions about faith and religion are a good thing or not?  Why?
  • I did not mention it in the Gospel Reflection but as noted in verse 16 Jesus must have done this miracle or sign on the Sabbath and the Pharisees were not happy about it.  What is your opinion?  Was it okay for Jesus to heal on the Sabbath even though there were rules about working on the Sabbath day (healing would be considered work)?  Why or why not?
  • Since Jesus is the Light of the World, what are some ways we can reflect that light of Jesus into the lives of our friends and neighbors?

Activity Suggestions

If you have midweek Lenten services and maybe soup suppers before worship, take a moment to interview an older adult.  Ask them about their faith journey, how did they come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah and the Light of the World.  Then, next time your youth group or bible study meets, compare notes.  What are the similarities?  Are all of the faith journeys alike?  What do the different stories tell you about how we come to faith in God and Jesus?

Closing Prayer

Amazing God, open the eyes of our faith so that we may come to see clearly that Jesus is the Christ and the Light of the World.  May the light of Christ shine brightly into our darkness and the darkness of the world.  Strengthen and empower our faith so that we might serve you and our neighbors in need by reflecting the light of your Chosen One, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

November 11, 2012–Reckless Generosity

Contributed by Paul Baglyos, St. Paul, MN

Warm-up Question

Generosity: Is it just a nice idea or is it a life commitment?

Reckless Generosity

Earlier this fall blogger David Briggs, writing for the Huffington Post, noted that recent research reveals that many churchgoing Americans misrepresent the amount of money they give in charitable contributions.  Whether intentionally or not, many people reply to questions about their giving by overstating the amount they actually give.  Briggs describes the research findings as indicating a “gap between perception and reality.”  Many people think that they give more than they really do, perhaps because they are unaware of their actual giving.  They may claim that they give more than they really do because they want to be regarded as more generous than they really are.  Apparently, many people are more committed to the idea of giving than to the actual practice of it. For Briggs’ full article on the research findings, go here.


Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think many people overstate the amount of money they actually give in charitable contributions?
  • Do you think it is difficult to be generous?  If so, why is it difficult?
  • Do you know any generous people?  Who are they?  In what ways are they generous?
  • Are you a generous person?  Do you find it difficult or easy to be generous?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 11, 2012 (Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost)

1 Kings 17:8-16

Hebrews 9:24-28

Mark 12:38-44

(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

By commending the example of the poor widow, Jesus makes it clear that true generosity cannot be measured in money but only in attitude.  The widow’s two small copper coins, worth only a penny, count for little in comparison to the much larger sums of money given by others.  The true value of her offering is that it represents everything she has to give.  In other words, the widow is more generous than all the others because she gives everything while they give only something.

Jesus emphasizes that the widow “put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”  By any human calculation, the widow has done something reckless and foolish.  But her reckless folly mirrors the generosity of God.  Again and again in the teaching of Jesus, as in the entire Bible, God is seen to be reckless and foolish in God’s own abundant generosity.  Consider the stories that Jesus tells about the father and his two sons (Luke 15) or the laborers hired to work in the vineyard (Matthew 20).  Read what Jesus teaches in Matthew 7:25-33, and reflect upon the ways in which the poor widow has taken such teaching to heart.

By commending the generosity of the poor widow, Jesus points to the generosity of God.  The widow is a witness to the generosity of God, who gives everything and all.  Consider what Martin Luther teaches about God’s generosity in the Small Catechism, where Luther explains the Apostles’ Creed.  Scripture tells us that human beings are created in the image of God.  The poor widow shows us what it means to live as the image of the God who gives everything and all.

Discussion Questions

  • How do our practices of generosity witness to the generosity of God?  How does our giving represent what we believe about God?  What does our giving teach others about God?
  • What does it mean for us to be people created in the image of an abundantly generous God?  How does our generous God call us to live?

Activity Suggestions

  • Have a conversation at home with your family about financial giving.  Ask how much money the people in your family give in church offerings and other charitable contributions.  What are the beliefs and attitudes that guide the giving habits in your family?  Are the people in your family willing or reluctant to talk about their giving?  How does your family teach and practice generosity?
  • As a group, identify a project or a concern toward which you would like to make a collective contribution.  Make a plan about what you will do together, including the commitments that each person will make to help fulfill that plan.

Closing Prayer

Help us who have received so freely from you to give as freely in our turn, and so have the pleasure of giving as well as the happiness of receiving.*  Amen

 (*for this and other prayers)

September 23, 2012–Self-Esteem

Contributed by John Hougen, Melrose Park, PA

Warm-up Question

Think of times when you felt great. What caused your positive feelings about yourself and your situation?


As the boxer Muhammad Ali was rising through the ranks toward becoming heavyweight champion of the world, he was famous for strutting proudly, speaking about himself in laudatory poetry (long before hip hop), and proclaiming, “I am the greatest.” He did not have problems with low self-esteem.

Not many of us have the supreme self-confidence of Muhammad Ali. Most of us struggle with low self-esteem for one reason or another. There are under-achievers who think they are unable to succeed and sabotage their own efforts. There are over-achievers who are always disappointed because they fall short of perfection. There are those who buy into cultural stereotypes of inferiority (of race, social status, economic class). There are those who, in childhood, come to believe discouraging messages from critical parents, teachers, or peers. There are those who start out with confidence, but have it shattered by failures in the “real world.” There are pious Christians who believe that the Bible’s emphases on sinfulness and “humility and meekness” mean that we should not love ourselves.

In our culture, where so many struggle with low self-esteem, there are both unhealthy and healthy ways to come by a positive self-image. One example of an unhealthy way to improve one’s self-image is through drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol promise “good feelings,” but their effects are short-lived and usually are followed by a crash into lower self-esteem. Another unhealthy road to high self-esteem is to seek fame at any cost. Cravings for “fame” and “celebrity” can lead people to do stupid and self-destructive things just to get noticed by their peers or claim a few moments on TV.

On the other hand, there are many healthy ways to foster positive self-esteem. Loving, affirming parents and teachers help. Close friends help. Setting and achieving realistic goals helps. Maintaining a balance between work and play helps. Attending to the health of body, mind, and soul helps. And, the Christian faith can help, too. God has affirmed our worth by creating us, watching over us (Psalm 139), by dwelling within us, by forgiving our sins (repeatedly) and giving us fresh starts (repeatedly), by becoming one of us (Jesus Christ “became flesh and lived among us” John 1: 14), by sending the Spirit to love and guide us, and by promising to welcome us into a heavenly home after our life is over. The more intimate our relationship with God, the more we sense that all these teachings apply to us, and the more our faith bolsters our self-esteem.


Discussion Questions

  • Can you identify the factors in your life that have helped your self-esteem and those that have hurt it? What are they?
  • Has your experience as a Christian been that Christian faith makes you feel worse about yourself or better?
  • How do you cope with the temptations to bolster your self-esteem with dangerous, stupid, or self-destructive behavior?


Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, September 23, 2012 (Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost)


Jeremiah 11:18-20

James 3:13–4:3, 7-8a

Mark 9:30-37

(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 and his disciples walked wherever they went. In Mark 9: 30 – 37, they are walking to the fishing village of Capernaum, located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. They talk as they walk. Jesus is trying to tell his disciples that trouble is ahead. He will be betrayed and killed; human depravity in the form of disloyalty, lying, false accusation, and murder will end his ministry and his life. However, Jesus adds a note of hope, saying that after he is killed, he will rise again in three days.

The disciples don’t understand what Jesus is saying and “are afraid to ask.” (Verse 32) Perhaps it is impossible for the disciples to imagine such betrayal and violence while walking together on a scenic road to the seashore. Perhaps they had been expecting a triumphant Messiah and cannot wrap their heads around the idea that the Messiah will be killed.

When they reach Capernaum, Jesus asks his disciples what they were arguing about on the way. It turns out they were arguing about who was the greatest. Jesus responds by teaching them about the source of true greatness: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” In other words, to be great and have substantive, authentic, positive self-esteem; you must give up other ideas about how to be great, and see greatness in service.

Then, Jesus illustrates what he means. He lifts up a little child, and holds the child in his arms. In Bible times, children were of “low status in society,” and considered “weak and insignificant.” (Quotations from the marginal note to Mark 9: 36-37 in the Lutheran Study Bible.) Jesus teaches that to serve all, one must be willing to serve those of the lowest status, such as the child he is holding.

Jesus also uses the child to teach his disciples that he and the one who sent him (God) are in solidarity with those who are weak and insignificant. They are united in spirit with the weak. They dwell in the hearts of the insignificant. Their unity with the weak is so profound that Jesus claims, Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9: 37) (See also Matthew 25: 31 – 40) True greatness and authentic, positive self-esteem come from serving; and they also come from welcoming God into our lives. As noted above, the more intimate our relationship with God, the more our faith bolsters our self-esteem.

At the same time Jesus teaches his disciples that true greatness comes from being close to God and serving those of low status in society, he is preparing his disciples for the future: the future he predicted on the road to Capernaum. To continue to worship and serve Jesus as he suffers and dies, and to continue being in relationship through Jesus with the One who sent him, the disciples will have to ignore public judgments about who is the greatest. For, as a criminal on the cross, Jesus – the one they consider great enough to worship and follow – will occupy an even lower status in society than the child Jesus holds as he teaches. (See Philippians 2: 3 – 8). The disciples will have to see greatness in one who serves until it hurts, who serves the weak and insignificant until death stops him, who serves until his only hope for future service is placed in hands of a God who will raise him from the dead. And, the disciples will have to learn that if they want to remain Jesus’ disciples, they too will be called to follow Jesus’ path, and to serve the weak and insignificant until their only hope is in a God who promises to raise them from the dead.

Discussion Questions

  • Are you willing to be a disciple, to worship Jesus and practice his way of serving? What exactly does that mean?
  • Before you encountered this text, what was it about Jesus that made him great in your eyes? Was it his miracles or his being raised from the dead? Was it because prayers in the name of Jesus have helped you? Was it his teachings or the fact that Christianity claims more believers than any other religion? Was it his sinless life or his ability to forgive his enemies? Did you ever think Jesus was great because of his unity with God and his solidarity with those who are weak and insignificant?
  • Do you think it is possible to raise your self-esteem by serving others? Why or why not?
  • Have you had experiences in which you felt God’s presence while serving people in need? Describe the experiences and the feelings.

Activity Suggestions

  •  Children are valued much more in our society than they were in the Roman Empire of Jesus’ day. If Jesus were telling us we must be the servant of all in our society, who or what would he bring into our midst in order to illustrate what he meant when he said we should be the servant of all! Make a list of those of “low status” in our society. Include those who are considered “weak and /or insignificant.” (Are any of those on your list mentioned in Matthew 25: 31 – 40?) Then list the kinds of service needed by the “weak and insignificant” in our society.
  • Make two more lists: entitle one “Ways I Bolster my Self-esteem” and the other “Opportunities for Service.” Choose the least healthy “way” in your first list and the most attractive “opportunity” in your second list. During the month ahead try to replace the least healthy way you bolster your self-esteem by replacing it with the most attractive service opportunity. Share with your group your progress toward becoming great in service.

Closing Prayer

Gracious God, help us to see that those who serve are the greatest among us. Give us the courage to be different from all who seek greatness in power, fame, wealth, and prestige. Guide us into lives of service for those who need it the most, and help us to discern your presence within them.  Amen.

September 16, 2012–Take Up Your Cross

Contributed by Scott Mims, Virginia Beach, VA


Warm-up Question

  •   (Activity) Give each person some Play-Doh or similar material and have them create a sculpture or a symbol that represents or relates to their faith.  After a few minutes, have everyone share their creation and what it symbolizes.  Take note of how many people incorporate a cross in their sculpture.
  • Do you think it is easy or hard to be a Christian today?  Why?
  • If you had to create a single text message that shares the gospel with someone, what would it say?

Take Up Your Cross

Should a person be fired for wearing a cross, especially when co-workers of other faiths are allowed to wear items symbolic of their beliefs?  Is it appropriate for Christians to refuse to provide services to homosexual couples if doing so conflicts with their personal religious convictions?  These are the issues underlying what some are calling “a watershed moment” in Great Britain.

Four Christians in England, who each claim to have lost their jobs because of discrimination against their Christian beliefs, have recently been granted a hearing by the European Court of Human Rights.  Their case has further fueled debate in England over how to appropriately balance the rights of people to practice their faith with the protection of the rights of others in society.  In recent times British courts have ruled overwhelmingly against Christians, occasionally comparing their beliefs unfavorably with secular principles.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think it means to be a Christian?
  • Do you think that being a Christian is more a matter of what you believe or how you act?
  • Do you feel comfortable wearing jewelry or clothing that identifies you as a Christian?  If not, why not?  If so, are there places or situations where you would feel uncomfortable or that doing so would be inappropriate?
  • Do you agree or disagree: our overall culture is becoming increasingly indifferent, if not openly hostile, to Christianity?  Why?
  • What limits, if any, should there be on religious expression?  For example some religions have mandates regarding facial hair or head covering.  Should employers be able to require a shave or a bare head?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, September 16, 2012 (16th Sunday after Pentecost)

Isaiah 50:4-9a

James 3:1-12

Mark 8:27-38

(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

This particular passage is often called the fulcrum or “hinge” of Mark’s gospel account.  Not only is it the midpoint of the book, it also marks several important turning points in the story.  Geographically, Jesus has been working mostly in the region of Galilee, but now his ministry will lead him steadily onward to Jerusalem and the cross.  Theologically several shifts also occur.  Up to this point, Mark has focused on who Jesus is as shown by his words and his works of power.  The conclusion he hopes that we, the readers of the gospel, will reach is the same one that Peter voices – Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ.  So, from here on out the gospel will focus much more on what it means that Jesus is the Christ, and subsequently, what it means to those who call themselves Christians.  That is to say, there is a shift at this point from the invitation to follow Jesus to what discipleship – following Jesus – truly looks like.

So, what does discipleship look like?  Another important feature of this passage is that it contains the first of three instances, three “passion predictions,” in which Jesus foretells what lies at the end of his journey to Jerusalem (verse 31).  Here, as in the other two instances (Mk. 9:30, 10:32-34), those closest to Jesus fail to understand what he is talking about.  Peter rather famously pulls Jesus aside, as if Jesus is the candidate and Peter the campaign manager, and begins to rebuke Jesus for saying such things.  Jesus just as famously puts Peter in his place.  “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  And here is the essence of the matter, it is not the disciple’s place to define what “Messiah” or “Christ” mean, for it is Jesus alone who gets to define these things.  The disciple’s place is simply to get behind Jesus, to take up her or his cross, and to follow.

But what does it mean to take up one’s cross?  Is it simply to deal with the problems or troubles that come your way with as much patience, determination, and faith as possible?  We often hear of “bearing our cross” in terms of such things.  Yet Jesus has something else, something deeper in mind than getting through life as best as we can.  After all, the cross that awaits Jesus in Jerusalem is not an accidental event or circumstance for him to “get through,” it is a direct result of his own work to confront the powers of sin, evil, and death.  Jesus defined Messiah in terms of his identification with the outcasts, the forgotten, and the oppressed, bringing to them in word and deed the promise of God’s coming kingdom.  This has important implications for all who would follow Jesus.  “Taking up the cross means being at work where God is at work in the world to relieve suffering and injustice, to rescue the weak, and to bring peace and justice to bear in the human community.” (R. Alan Culpepper, Mark)  Because God has gifted each of us with a unique set of gifts, talents, abilities, and experiences, each of us has a unique opportunity to take up our cross and participate in God’s redemptive work in the world.

Discussion Questions

  • One often hears that all you need to do in order to be a Christian is to “believe in Jesus” or to “accept him as your personal Lord and Savior.” How do such statements compare with what Jesus calls us to in this passage?  Can a person follow Jesus apart from believing in him?  Can a person believe in him without following?
  • If you were either to paint a picture or to make a list of what it means to take up your cross and follow Jesus, what are some of the things that you would include?
  • How far would you be willing to go in order to be a disciple?  What things in your life right now would you be willing to give up, change, or take on in order to follow Jesus?
  • Even after listening to him teach and witnessing the things that he did, Jesus’ disciples still had a hard time fully understanding what he was up to.  Are there ways in which Christians today misunderstand Jesus?

Activity Suggestions

  • Baptismal Connections    Examine together the Affirmation of Baptism service, and especially the description of our baptismal covenant (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, pg. 236; Lutheran Book of Worship, pg. 201).  How is this a description of what it means to be a disciple?  Brainstorm together some practical, every day ways you can live out these promises.  For example, what does it look like to live among God’s faithful people?  How does one proclaim the good news of God in word and deed in real, actionable terms, or strive for justice and peace in all the earth?
  • Gifted to Serve   Use a spiritual gifts inventory, or other such instrument, to help participants identify and claim some of the ways in which God has gifted them.  Challenge them to consider how they might use their specific gifts and abilities to participate in God’s redemptive work in the world.  How can using their gifts become a way of taking up their cross and following Jesus?  One such inventory can be found on the ELCA website:

Closing Prayer

Gracious and loving God, in the waters of baptism you name us and claim us and make us your own.  Thank you for the gift of new life and for the invitation to experience that life in the community of your church.  Fill us with your Spirit, call deeply to our hearts, and lead us to more fully and faithfully follow Jesus.  Guide our thoughts, our words, and our actions, that we may be your hands and voice in a world so hungry to experience good news.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.


December 18, 2011–Messed Up Message?

Contributed by Scott Moore, Erfurt, Germany

Warm-up Question

When have you misunderstood someone to the point where it was either funny or embarrassing?

Messed Up Message?

On a cell phone anywhere, U.S.A.— As cell phone technology improves and the phones themselves getting “smarter” with every new version, one thing seems to be struggling more than in the past: text messaging. Newer auto correct features now allow the phone to decide how the word should be finished based on the first few letters and based on entries from previous text messages. The advent of such smart technology and the “failtexts” it brings with it is causing everything from a good chuckle to more serious relationship crises. Without the advantage of someone’s voice to help interpret the meaning of text messages, it seems that communication is more challenging now than ever. “Well, you need a sense of humor, I guess,” said one seventeen-year old. Another user mused, “I don’t use the feature. I don’t want the phone messing up my messages. It’s crazy.”

Needless to say, not only do the texters themselves have to pay closer attention to what they write before they hit “send”, but the readers have to try to be open and forgiving of miscommunications. But only if they can tell it’s a fail message.

Discussion Questions

  • Survey: (please raise your hand) Do you use your text function throughout the day 5 times or less?…..6-10?…..11-25?…..26-50?…..More than 50?   What does that number say about the you, if anything?
  •  What are the advantages of texting over other forms of communicating?  What are the disadvantages?
  • When have you ever missed out on something “important” to you where you were because you were texting and not able to pay attention?
  • When has texting helped you be more present in someone’s life?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December 18, 2011 (Fourth Sunday of Advent

2 Samuel 7:1-11

Romans 16:25-27

Luke 1:26-38
(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

An intimidating angel comes out of nowhere with a message for a woman on the verge of adulthood. “God really likes you. God thinks you’re great.” That’s what it means to find favor with God. Somehow this young person got on God’s radar screen. Or rather, God simply put her on the radar screen. God chose her. God’s love makes her special. But somehow she didn’t know it yet. Here she was going about her business of getting ready to settle down with a nice guy from her home-town and maybe start a family and make a go at this thing called life. Now this angel—which comes from the Greek word for bringer of news or messenger—is throwing a wrench into all their plans. A son? How? We’re not trying to have kids yet. Pregnant you say? By the Holy Spirit? Uh huh.

This is a strange beginning to a strange and overwhelming conversation with an angel of the Lord. Mary started out “perplexed”, out of sorts. As the story gets more surreal, she seems to get calmer. It would be easy to think that the average person would just have shut down after that kind of communication at the start. We might even respond with a polite, “Well, thanks for stopping by, here’s the door.” But that’s not what happens here. Before she finds out she will bear Jesus, the Son of the Most High God, Mary has been prepared through God’s loving favor.  God’s loving favor for her precedes her being made ready for the eternal Word of God, Jesus.

Mary is the prototypical (the first example) Christian. She is the first one to be prepared to bear Christ. In fact, she is called that in the Orthodox tradition—theotokos, which means “God bearer”. It is a special term for Mary as the one who bore God, in this case Jesus the Christ. But just as Mary was loved into readiness, we too are loved first by God and drawn into the message of good news of Jesus. For some that comes later in life when we are consciously aware of the message, for others that happens very early on, first in the waters of baptism, with learning about the message of Christ afterwards.

Mary seems a little confused about the message Gabriel passes on to her from God. But Gabriel is able to clear things up. Mary gets it. Not only does she understand clearly what the message actually is but she also accepts it in faith. She offers herself to be an instrument of God’s will, even though this may have meant shame and ridicule among family, friends, and neighbors. The clarity of the messenger and the message reach someone who is open for God’s word. God’s love, Mary’s response. This is certainly something to rejoice about. And, in the next story (Luke 1:39-56), that is exactly what Mary does—sings a song of praise to God for loving her and choosing her to work great things in the world.

Discussion Questions

  • When have you been perplexed by a message someone passed on to you?
  • When has someone dear to you entrusted you with an important task?
  • When have you been willing to change something about your life in order to do something good for others?
  • What kind of message from God would you find “perplexing?”
  • If the word angel simply means ‘messenger’ in Greek (the language of the New Testament), what do you think angels look like?

Activity Suggestions

Playing Gabriel:

Participants create messages (either on paper, or spoken, or sent as text messages) of God’s love and favor and speak them or hand them out to members of the congregation, strangers, family or friends. Some example messages: (Feel free to create your own in the same style but your own words!)

“Greetings, Child of God. You are special. God loves you and wants to do great things with you.”

“Hey there! You know what? God thinks you’re alright. Keep it up. God has big plans for you.”

“Hi, friend. You may not know this but God is with you. All the time. And God wants you to pass that message on.”

“God wants you to know something. Ready? You are so loved! And, you are important.”

Closing Prayer

O God who shows favor to the young, make your love and favor known to us. Empower us to turn and open our hearts and minds to you. Guide us to be faithful servants, like your servant Mary. Let us bear Christ in the world. We ask this in the name of the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen