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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.

February 2-8-2011–The Souper Bowl

Contributed by Kelly Derrick, St Philip Lutheran Church, Roanoke, VA

Warm-up Question

Are you going to watch the Super Bowl?

The Souper Bowl

On Sunday, February 6th, millions of Americans will watch the Super Bowl, the NFL’s final showdown between the Steelers and the Packers.   Also on this same Sunday, thousands of young people in America will participate in the Souper Bowl of Caring.

The Souper Bowl of Caring began in 1990 in Columbia, SC, as a ministry of 22 congregations seeking to answer this simple question: “Why not use Super Bowl weekend, a time when people come together for football and fun, to also unify the nation for a higher good: collecting dollars and canned food for the needy?”  The movement is now the nation’s largest celebration of giving and serving.  Young people are the primary leaders of this food drive/service blitz movement.  Groups are encouraged to collect both donations of cans of food (really any non-perishable food will do!) as well as monetary donations.  Most often, the money is collected in soup pots (makes sense, huh?).  All of the food and all of the money collected is kept within the local community.  Each group decides to whom the food and money will go.  Each group also reports the totals of their collection to the Souper Bowl of Caring so that a national total of food and money is tallied.

Along with collecting food and funds for hunger agencies in their own area, groups are encouraged to participate in a Service Blitz.  The reasons for doing a Service Blitz are, in part, because it “helps youth connect the contents of their soup pots to the individuals directly benefiting from the dollar and can donations and gives youth exposure to poverty, hunger, homelessness, and injustice in their own community.”

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever participated in the Souper Bowl of Caring?  If so, what did you do? What was it like?  How did it make you feel?
  • What is your congregation doing to respond to hunger in your community? Around the world?
  • The Souper Bowl of Caring believes that young people have the ability to serve and should be given opportunities to lead their communities in helping others.  How has God gifted you to lead?  Does your congregation empower you to serve and to lead?
  • The Souper Bowl of Caring also believes that hunger and poverty have a negative impact on individuals and the communities in which they live.  Do you think that hunger and poverty actually do have a negative impact on your community? If so, how?  If not, why not?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, February 6, 2011 (Fifth Sunday and Epiphany)

Isaiah 58:1-9a [9b-12]

1 Corinthians 2:1-12 [13-16]

Matthew 5:13-20

(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

Be salt? Be light? Huh? Over the years, many people (including some scholars) have been confused by these words from Jesus.  How are we to be salt and light?  What does that mean?  Maybe it has something to do with the good works Jesus mentions?

This passage from Matthew is part of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  To really oversimplify, the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ instructions for those who follow him – what to believe and, much more important, what to do.  Following Jesus requires a response from us!  Jesus has certain expectations for how his followers will act.  Faith is not just about belief; faith is about action.  So, what is it that we are supposed to do?

Jesus says that we should do good works and that our righteousness should exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.  So what does Jesus mean by righteousness?  God’s righteousness is about covenant: God keeping the promises God has made to the people, most important God’s promise to save the people.  God’s righteousness is about God’s action on behalf of God’s people – saving, freeing, helping, assisting, raising up.  Most often God’s actions were on behalf of the poor and needy.  As God’s people, our righteousness should be like God’s righteousness.  When Jesus says we should act in righteousness, he means that we should act as God acts.  Like God, we should be concerned about – and act on behalf of – those who are poor and needy.  Righteousness is doing justice for the poor, the helpless, the oppressed, the widow, the orphan, and the resident alien – all of those who are the least, last, lost, littlest, and lifeless within the community.

So, how do we act in a righteous way?  I think the words for today from Isaiah give us some hints.  The prophet says that God wants us to worship in this way: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless poor into your house, to cover the naked and not to hide yourself from your own kin.  Look at all those verbs; that’s lots of action!  Then, Isaiah says, your light shall break forth like the dawn!  Sounds a lot like being light to me!

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think Jesus means by being salt and being light?
  • At the end of the Lutheran baptism service, the pastor often says this from Matthew 5:16: “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”  What does baptism have to do with doing good works?
  • What do you think Jesus wants us to do?
  • What does the Souper Bowl of Caring have to do with doing righteousness? With letting your light shine before others so they can see your good works and glorify God?
  • The Souper Bowl of Caring believes that there is joy in serving?  Do you feel joy when you serve?  Should this be our motivation for helping people who live in poverty and hunger?  Are there others reasons that we should help people who are in need (hint: does God have anything to do with it!?!)?

Activity Suggestions

  • Consider watching the Hunger Education video that is part of the Souper Bowl of Caring or taking the Hunger Quiz. Are you familiar with these hunger statistics?  How did you do on the quiz?  What surprised you?  Was anything particularly shocking to you?
  • Using 100 of anything (pennies, beans, crackers, pieces of paper, people), show visually how the world divides resources by using the World of 100 Statistics.   Or you can watch the video: The Miniature Earth (with similar info; they also have a statistical list on their homepage).

Closing Prayer

Gracious and loving God, thanks for your many gifts to all of humanity.  Help us to use the gifts you have given us to be light in the world.  Empower us to see those who are hungry and poor as your children and our neighbors.  Help us to help all of your people.  Fill us with your Holy Spirit, so that we can feed hungry people today and work for a world in which there are no hungry people at all.  Amen.

December 29-January 4–Happy New Year

Contributed by Paul Henrickson,  Chaplain, Roanoke College;  Salem, VA

Warm-up Question

Was 2010 a happy year for you?  Why?  What do you think makes for happiness?

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!  (With great emphasis on HAPPY!)  It’s time to make those New Year’s resolutions – you know those promises you make to yourself and then wiggle out of them by Valentine’s Day.  Let’s see, what will make me “happy” in 2011?  In 2011 I am going to lose 20 pounds; I am going to quit smoking; I am going to take more time for my family; I am going to read one good book each month … We make New Year’s Resolutions because we imagine that we can live happier in the future than we did in the past.  If I ask my students what they want in their life, they always say “I want to be happy.”  After all, we have it written in the Declaration of Independence that we have the right to the “… pursuit of happiness.”  So let’s all resolve to be happy in 2011.

Daniel Gilbert is a Psychology professor at Harvard – he studies “happiness.” In 2003 he wrote an article for the New York Times entitled “The Futile Pursuit of Happiness.” In this article he argues that we can’t “pursue” happiness because we really don’t know what will make us happy.  He emphasizes that there is a gap between what we predict will make us happy and what we ultimately experience.  Gilbert calls this gap the “impact bias.” He says that we consistently over estimate what will make us happy; i.e. planning for a vacation anticipates more happiness than actually going on the vacation.  Gilbert writes that impact bias “…characterizes how we experience the dimming excitement over not just a BMW but also over any object or event that we presume will make us happy.”

So… “Happy New Year!” (with Happy being an elusive goal.)

Discussion Questions

  • What are your resolutions for 2011?
  • If “happiness” is your goal, what kind of grade do you give your life so far?
  • Why do you think we experience “impact bias,”  the gap between what we think will make us happy and what we actually experience?  What might we do to lessen the gap?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, January 2, 2011 (Second Sunday of Christmas)

Jeremiah 31:7-14

Ephesians 1:3-14

John 1:[1-9] 10-18

(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

If I ever have the opportunity to teach conformation class again, I will require the students to memorize John 1:1-18; this is the pure Gospel.  It is, in a sense, our own “Declaration of Independence” from the bondage of sin and it is the foundation for the life of a Christian.  Listen to these phrases:

  • In the beginning was the Word
  • the Word became flesh
  • the light shines in the darkness
  • power to become the children of God
  • we have all received grace upon grace

This is the Gospel of the Lord.

This is not about being happy; it is about joy. It is about having the abundant life that comes, not because of our clever planning, but as a gift from God.  We are required to do nothing but accept the gift and make it the foundation of our lives of faith.

Resolve to live your life in the gift of grace.

Resolve to repeat these 18 verses once a day.

Resolve to surrender, not to pleasure, but to joy.

Discussion Questions

  • What is the difference between happiness and joy?  Is it possible to be joyful without being happy?
  • John 1:1-18 is one of the great passages of scripture.  If you could only share one other text from the Bible with another person, what would it be?

Activity Suggestions

  • John’s prologue emphasizes that God’s love is not merely an abstraction, but has become touchable in a person.  Share a time when the love of God became more than a theological term because you experienced it in a person.
  • Draw a picture to illustrate, ‘the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”
  • Read John 1:1-18 each day for a week and keep a journal of your thoughts in response to the words.  Share your insights the next time your group meets?

Closing Prayer

Lord of all Joy, by your grace let me surrender to the joy you have given me.  Let me live this day in the light of the Word, made flesh, and evident to me. Amen