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January 27-February 2–Being Benny Blowhard

Contributed by Bill King, Blacksburg, VA

Warm-up Question

Think about the person with whom you most enjoy spending time.  What makes that person’s company so pleasant?


Being Benny Blowhard

Are you a “Chatty Cathy” or a “Benny Blowhard”?  Everyone knows somebody who is long-winded and we usually regard such people as boring and self-absorbed.  But according to Marty Nemko, columnist, you could be that person and not know it.  He offers a few questions you can ask yourself to determine whether others are secretly looking for an open window to jump out of when they see you coming:

  • Do my pronouncements routinely exceed one minute?
  • Do I wander off on tangents?
  • Do my listeners often show signs of lack of interest?
  • Have my friends ever called me oblivious, egocentric, or selfish?
  • Do I blather on about details which interest me but are of little interest to my listener?
  • Do others avoid making eye contact when they pass me for fear of getting into a long conversation? 

mouthNemko says you pay a high price when people perceive you as a big mouth.  You will be held in low esteem and are likely to have fewer friends.  But all is not lost; there are things you can do to remedy the situation:  Be concise.  Be alert to your listener’s non-verbal clues.  Periodically pause and ask a question (“What do you think?”).  Nemko suggests that you adopt the “traffic light rule.”  For the first thirty seconds assume the light is green and the listener is probably not bored.  In the next thirty seconds the light turns yellow and the risk of boring increases.  After sixty seconds, think red and realize that running the light with that favorite story is dangerous. 

“Remember,” says Nemko, “If you care about other people, you’ll make them part of the conversation… Think of it this way: Big talkers learn little. Good listeners learn a lot.” 



Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think some people talk so much, even to the point of not realizing they bore their listeners?
  • How might the “traffic light rule” apply to Facebook, texting, and IM?
  • What is the best way, both effective and kind, to tell someone that he or she talks too much?


Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, January 31, 2010 (Fourth Sunday After Epiphany)

(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 1:4-10

I Corinthians 13:1-13

Luke 4:21-30


Bible Reflection

He could have stopped while he was ahead.  The home town boy had come home to great acclaim.  “Yes sir,” they were saying, “that Jesus has turned out to be quite a preacher—knows his Bible backwards and forward.”  The text he’d picked from Isaiah was always a crowd pleaser.  Those words about release to the captives, sight to the blind, and liberty for the oppressed—that sounded great to people who lived every day with their noses rubbed in their insignificance to the empire which ruled them.  Despite all appearances they were important.  God had not forgotten them; someday there would be a reckoning.  The world would see how special they were.  Just hearing the prophet’s words read gave the whole congregation a warm feeling.  All Jesus had to do to end the day very well-liked was to stop talking. 

upsetBut being popular was never a high priority for Jesus.  So he reminds the congregation of an inconvenient truth:  God seems to care about everyone, Jew and Gentile.  There were plenty of hungry Jewish widows when God sent Elijah to Sidon.  Even more offensive to those who assumed God’s love was only for Israel, Jesus points out that God directed Elisha to heal a foreign conqueror when there were plenty of pious lepers among the Chosen People.  In an instant Jesus went from hometown hero to outsider on the lam. 

Theologian Elton Trueblood observed that “the world is equally shocked at hearing Christianity criticized and seeing it practiced.”  We hear about God’s love and get a warm feeling.  It’s good to know that nothing we can do will separate us from God.  We gather with the community in Christ, sing happy songs, and take comfort from the support which surrounds us.  Nothing wrong with that.  But then Jesus has the audacity to suggest that he might love the folks who are not like us.  He might care about those who practice other religions, live in countries at war with our own, have a different colored skin, or have a lifestyle we find offensive.  Even more appalling, he seems to want us to love them too.  Then we are not so sure we like this God after all.  

Unconditional, expansive love is fine in the abstract—but, Jesus, I was really thinking it meant that you love folks fundamentally like me and mine.  You mean it includes precisely those I find most offensive?  Lord, if you think I am going to do that, there is the cliff I’d like you take a step off of… 

Sometimes we get in trouble for talking too much.  The question is whether people find us offensive because we are not saying anything worth hearing or because what we are saying is so filled with God’s Word that it is hard to hear and remain unchanged.


Discussion Questions

  • Who are the outsiders beyond your community which you resist including in God’s care?
  • Can you remember a time when expressing God’s love for all people caused you to be excluded or rejected?
  • Many persons say the church is losing members because it is like a boring speaker who talks too much and never listens?  Do you think that is true?  How could the church listen to those beyond its fellowship?


Activity Suggestions

  • Have your group role play the scene at the synagogue described in Luke 4.  In order to capture the full drama you will need to expand the gospel reading to include verses 16-20.  Invite the group to imagine how the mood in the synagogue would have changed as Jesus read and then offered an expansive interpretation of the text from Isaiah.  You might want to cast the scene to include Jesus’ family, the leader of the synagogue, older folks who had known Jesus as a boy, some of his peers growing up, and members of the Jewish community. 
  •  Place a chalice and paten in the center of the meeting space.  Give participants a number of small slips of paper printed with “The body and blood of Christ are given for_________.”  Ask participants to write in the name of those persons or groups they find hardest to love.  Invite them to consider both large categories and the individuals with whom they interact daily.  When all have filled out as many slips as they wish, put all the slips on the paten or in the chalice.  Talk about why it is hard to love some people and how imagining them at the Lord’s table might change our attitude toward them.  End with the prayer below.


Closing Prayer

Lord, who always listened to the longings of those you met, open our ears, that we may compassionately  hear the hurts and needs of all whom we encounter this week.  May no person, through our words or deeds, feel excluded from your love.  In the name of Him who broke down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile, we make our prayer.  Amen.

December 2-9, 2009 – Preparing a Way for Spirit

Contributed by Scott A. Moore


Warm-up Question

When have you ever helped someone who was “stuck?”


Preparing a Way for Spirit


rover_low_angle_200The National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) along with Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL) and some partners from other countries around the world have been working diligently to find a way out for a stuck Mars rover named Spirit. Spirit has been stuck for over six months now in an area where the ground is made up of very fine, soft sand. The six wheels (one of them has not been working properly for quite a while now) cannot seem to get the traction needed to move forward in any significant way. NASA is not giving up on Spirit, which along with its twin, Opportunity, has continued to function well for five years longer than the originally planned mission of three months. Teams here on earth are working with sample rovers in artificially created environments trying to recreate the actual conditions in order to find the perfect solution…to find a way out. Some of the attempts range from trying various wheel directions and speeds, to having Spirit try to dig itself out with its robotic arms. Just before the Thanksgiving Day weekend, Spirit was commanded to move its wheels forward. NASA indicated that the rover completed a spin which should have equaled a total of 13 feet. The rover actually only moved 0.2 inches forward, 0.1 inches to the left, and 0.1 inches further down into the sand.

To follow the story

  • Is it worth the time and effort for NASA to get Spirit unstuck?
  • When should someone call it quits and move on?
  • Have you ever wanted to help someone else get “unstuck?” If you tried to do something, how did that go?
  • What kinds of situations frustrate you the most?
  • When have you been “stuck” in a situation where someone else kept trying to help you?
  • Where in your life, in your congregation’s life, could you use a little “push” to move forward?
  • Who are the people in your life, who are usually able to help you move forward?
  • How are they able to help you best?


Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December 6, 2009 (Second Sunday of Advent)

(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 sandy Judean desert, a voice communicates a message of action. The word of God comes to John, son of Zechariah and cousin of a man named Jesus of Nazareth. John is called to go and preach a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” The voice of the prophet Isaiah is quoted as the guiding principle of what John is doing. He is preparing the way of the Lord. He is making the Lord’s paths straight. Valleys filled, mountains and hills brought low. Crooked made straight and rough made smooth. He is eliminating every possible barrier between the Lord and the world. 

 A “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” This seems to be the method to remove every barrier. Repentance seems to be the manner of preparing the way of the Lord. Repentance often sounds to us like simply saying sorry. There is certainly an emotional part to repentance but it is much, much more than that. Repentance in the New Testament is based on a word which means “to change one’s mind.” Repentance is seeing things in a new way, turning towards that new way, and living in that new way.  John’s baptism of repentance is a calling, and a gift of God. It is a call to be washed and set on a new path. It is a call to conversion. This call to repentance is a setting of our thoughts and actions in the Lord’s direction. Not only are we to be turned toward him, but we are to be turned to face the same direction our Lord faces.

Repentance means having our minds turned away from ourselves and our often selfish ways and to be shaped by God’s mind. It is seeing the world with God’s eyes. Perceiving and acting in love for the world and for our neighbor.

Being turned in repentance seems like an easy task. John called for a once and for all repentance. Our reality is often much different than that. We are often called by the voice of God to turn in the right direction, but find ourselves stuck and only able to move in tiny increments.  Or, we try so hard to turn ourselves that we overshoot our goal. God is very patient with us. Again and again God calls us to the way. A way of love, a way of sacrifice, a way of Christ.

Our repentance—never perfect, and never permanent—locates us in the central drama of Advent:  preparing the way of the Lord. In the world, and in our real lives. To that we can only say—“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

  • What does God’s “way” look like?
  • When are you most comfortable living in that “way?”
  • When have you had real difficulties seeing things with a godly mind?
  • When have you been successful at getting temporarily unstuck?
  • What helps you in your own “changing of your mind” or repentance?
  • What makes it difficult for you?
  • Who helps you to repent?



Preparing the Way of the Lord for Others
Here is a list of ideas your group might try in order to prepare the way of the Lord for others:

  1. Write and deliver invitations for Christmas worship to people you know are not part of a faith community.
  2. Think about the things in your congregational community which might create barriers between the world and the Lord.  Take some action to “smooth” them out!
  3. How can you visually help members of your congregation to prepare as they come to worship (sidewalk chalk sayings/Bible verses that address people as they come to church, posters and signs that do the same thing, maybe even a play on various traffic signs: one way, yield, stop…around various locations in church like the baptismal font, altar, pulpit, etc.)?
  4. Can your group serve as the greeters in worship, helping worshipers “get ready?”
  5. Could you literally “roll out the red carpet” (a saying which communicates a generous and honor-filled welcome) in your worship space, or outside your church as a symbol of the way we walk toward God.  Or, roll it out from worship into the world?


Preparing the Way of the Lord for Ourselves
Perhaps your group could write some prayers for yourselves and for other individuals in the congregation to pray at home as a preparation for worship. These could be thematic, scriptural, or guided by the church year. See Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) and Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW) for examples.


Closing Prayer

God of mercy, God of strength. We have so often walked a different path than the one you want us to walk. We need your guidance. Turn our minds to be like yours. Guide our steps. Lead us by your grace. We pray in our Lord Jesus’ name. Amen