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March 16-22, 2011–Conflict at the Corner of Church and State

Contributed by Jen Krausz, Bethlehem, PA


Warm-up Question

Have you ever passed out party invitations at school? What was the reaction?

Conflict at the Corner of Church and State

The Alliance Defense Fund, an organization devoted to promoting religious liberty, has filed a lawsuit against Pocono Mountain School district in Pennsylvania for discriminating against a fifth grade student.

The elementary school girl was told by the district superintendent that she could not hand out invitations for her church’s Christmas party at school, even though school policy permits students to hand out flyers and invitations for non-religious parties and other events.

The suit contends that the school district’s policies prohibit student speech simply because it is religious. According to the suit, the school district permitted other students to distribute fliers for Halloween parties, Valentine’s dances, bowling clubs and sports leagues. The suit states that what the girl, a student at Barrett Elementary Center in Cresco, wanted to hand out was an invitation to a Christmas party at her church that featured face painting, snacks, ping-pong, foosball, and “cup-stacking,”

David Cortman, a  lawyer for the ADF, commented, “It’s another example where schools need to be educated about the first amendment. The policies that are at the heart of this lawsuit are unconstitutional…In this case, because it was [affiliated with a church], it was denied.”
Read more:

Discussion Questions

  • What does “separation of church and state” mean to you? Do you agree that schools should ban religious “speech”? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think a school might not want students to “promote Christianity” in school?
  • Do you think that inviting friends to a church event is promoting Christianity?
  • If you were judging this lawsuit, how would you rule? Was this student discriminated against because of her religion?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, March 20 (Second Sunday of Lent)

Genesis 12:1-4a

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

John 3:1-17

(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 term “born again” is almost a cliché in today’s society. People who call themselves “born again Christians” are often ridiculed and looked at as simplistic or overly zealous about their faith. Abortion clinic bombers and military funeral protesters sometimes call themselves “born again Christians,” which does not help anyone understand what that term really means.

In these verses, Jesus explains to Nicodemus that everyone who wants to see God’s kingdom has to be born again. The word “again” can also be translated “from above.” This is a spiritual birth, the beginning of a relationship with God through Christ that is meant to develop throughout our lives. It’s not some kind of one-time decision for Christ, after which we can elevate ourselves above all the “non-believers.” Like every label, it’s been twisted, sometimes by the media and sometimes by those who call themselves “born again.”

These verses also contain probably the most familiar Bible verse of all Christianity, John 3:16. This is the gospel message in about 20 words (depending on the version you read). God loved us even though not one of us was worthy of it, and Jesus was sent by God to make things right between us and God, if we will accept the free gift of forgiveness.

Discussion Questions

  • What is your perception of the term “born again”? Did reading these verses help you gain a different understanding of this term? Do you consider yourself “born again”?
  • Are you confident that you have “everlasting life” through faith in Jesus? If so, what makes you confident? If not, what needs to happen for you to have that confidence?
  • Do you think the media unfairly labels “born again Christians” (such as only portraying them as abortion clinic bombers or military funeral protesters)?  If you could have a meeting with reporters and editors, what would you say to them?
  • If you could meet with the superintendent of the Pocono Mountain School District, what would you say?

Activity Suggestions

Create a skit where a meeting such as those described in the above discussion questions takes place. Try to create as convincing a conversation as possible, one that respects the complexity of the issues and involves speaking the truth in love rather than engaging in angry confrontation.  (This could involve many different speakers, rather than simply a one-on-one conversation). If permissible, perform the skit at one of your church services or for the entire youth group during a gathering.

Closing Prayer

Lord Jesus, we know that you did not spread your message with anger and condemnation. Help us to reflect your bold yet gentle spirit and to communicate the gospel message in a world that doesn’t always welcome it. In your holy name, amen.

October 28-November 4, 2009 – Signs of the times

Contributed by Pastor Seth Moland-Kovash
All Saints Lutheran Church
Palatine, IL

Warm-up Question:  How easy do you find it to forgive a friend when something bad happens that is clearly their fault?

surgeons200Finding fault and placing blame are things that all people do. Somehow it just seems to make us feel better when we can place the blame for someone on someone’s shoulders. Of course, it only serves to make us feel comfortable if we can place the blame on someone else’s shoulders. There are times when placing blame isn’t just a matter of words, but of serious consequences: sometimes thousands or millions of dollars, or other punishments.

One way that this happens is through medical malpractice lawsuits. A doctor or hospital can be sued for malpractice if a mistake is made in treating a patient or something is overlooked that should have been seen or treated.

One current proposal that is part of the debate on the healthcare system as a whole is to limit the amount of money that could be awarded to patients or families in malpractice cases. Called “tort reform,” one proposal would limit the amount of money that people could win to $500,000 for punitive damages and $250,000 for “pain and suffering.” The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this change would save the government $54 billion over the next 10 years.

Some say that the legal awards need to be limited to be reasonable and to cut the costs that doctors have to pay for malpractice insurance. Others say that there is no amount of money that should be considered too great for the family of someone who has died because of malpractice. 

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think? Should there be a limit on the amount of money that a doctor or hospital would have to pay in a malpractice case?
  2. If someone you loved died because of a clear case of malpractice, how much money do you think would be a fair punishment?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 1, 2009 (All Saints Day).

(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 B at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Gospel Reflection

Lazarus was dead. He was dead and buried and in the tomb. Jesus was late. The emergency message had been sent, but Jesus wasn’t there at the right time. Mary (Lazarus’ sister) said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” What do you think that she felt Jesus could have done? Whether she was right or not, she felt that Lazarus would not have died if Jesus had gotten there in time. Perhaps there was a hint of blame in her statement.

Where is God when it hurts? Why doesn’t God seem to be around to help me now like he helped all those people in the Bible? These are common questions that come to our minds when something bad happens. We want to know where God was and why God let that thing happen. In this story, we see that people even during the Bible times had the same experiences. Mary wanted to know why Jesus hadn’t gotten there in time. She wanted to know why this bad thing had to happen to her family. She was in pain.

And Jesus had healing for her pain. It wasn’t like anything she could have imagined. She imagined that, if Jesus had been able to get there before Lazarus died, then Jesus could have healed him. But once he was dead, Mary thought that was the end of the story.

Today, on All Saints Sunday, we remember again that death is not the end of the story for any of God’s saints. Your grandmothers and grandfathers, any of God’s children who have died, are alive again. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Nothing can separate us from God’s love; not even death (Romans 8:37-39).

Discussion Questions

  1. Tell about a time you were in pain and wondered whether God was even there.
  2. Have you seen signs that God is there in painful times? What do those signs look like? (Hint: Look at the other people in the room… they may be the signs for you)

Activity Suggestion

Create an “All Saints” remembrance with your youth group. Bring a memento or photo that makes you think of someone who has died. Tell your friends about that person. Say, “I am thankful to God for ________ because __________.”

Closing Prayer

Good and gracious God, we thank you for all the saints you have given us who have shown us your love and your mercy. Help us to continue to live as your faithful children until the day when we are reunited with all your saints. Amen.

(Or use the prayer for the “Rememberance of the faithful departed” found on page 82 of Evangelical Lutheran Worship.)