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April 24, 2016–Last Wishes

Brian Hiortdahl, Overland Park, KS


Warm-up Question

If you knew you had only a short time to live and were granted one last wish, what would it be?

Last Wishes

shutterstock_363528029Five year old Chen Xiaotian was diagnosed with brain cancer within months of his mother learning that she had uremia.  After two years, both conditions worsened.  Chen, 7, knowing he would die, was aware that his kidney might save his mother.  He pleaded with her to let him save her life.  Two hours after Chen’s death, his mother received his kidney.  Two other persons benefited from Chen’s gift of life.  His other kidney was transplanted to a 21-year old woman and a 26-year old man received Chen’s liver.

For further information:  video    news story

Discussion Questions

  • How does this story make you feel?
  • Would you want to be an organ donor?  Why or why not?
  • Can you think of other examples where something good came out of tragedy?

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 11:1-18

Revelation 21:1-6

John 13:31-35

(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 B at Lectionary Readings

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

Gospel Reflection

Jesus, knowing he will die, shares one final evening with his disciples.  He begins by washing their feet (despite initial resistance from Peter) and sharing bread with his betrayer.  After doing this, he states his dying wish as a new commandment:  Love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.

Later that same evening, after repeating this commandment (15:12), Jesus elaborates:  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends (15:13).  Like Chen, Jesus sees life for others coming from his death.  On this night in the other gospels, Jesus institutes his supper of Holy Communion—his life continuing to live inside his disciples’ bodies, giving them new strength.

This is how Jesus is “glorified.”  For him, glory does not come from fame or riches or popularity or success or adulation.  It comes through death.  He does not receive glory in, but radiates it out through the love his disciples show and share, following his lead.  His final wish is not anything for himself, but for the ongoing blessing of others.

Discussion Questions

  • What parallels do you see between Chen and Jesus?
  • How do you define glory?  How does that compare with how the world and Jesus define it?
  • In what tangible ways do members of your group/family/church “love one another”?  Would others recognize that you are Jesus’ disciples by the way that you treat one another?
  • Who would you be willing to die for?

Activity Suggestions

  • As a group, wash one another’s feet.  Follow with discussion about how it feels.  After that, make plans for washing the feet of others you know, perhaps in a homeless shelter, nursing home, or another setting with people who are often overlooked or undervalued.  Who would benefit from this form of loving service in your community?
  • Research the Make-a-Wish Foundation.  What stories from their work inspire you?

Closing Prayer

God of glory, graciously continue to fill our hearts, our bloodstreams, and our lives with the love of Jesus.  Strengthen us to love one another and teach us how to give life to others.  Comfort the dying and give them, like Chen, an opportunity to help others live.  Transform all our troubles into glory through Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Lord.  Amen

February 21, 2016–What’s in the Pipes

John Wertz, Blacksburg, VA

Warm-up Question

If you could only have one beverage to drink for the next month, what would it be and why?

What’s in the Pipes

The last time you turned on the water to brush your teeth or wash your hands or get something to drink, were you worried about the quality of your water? Thankfully, most water systems in the United States are regularly tested and are fairly safe, but unfortunately for the residents of Flint, Michigan a series of governmental decisions and cost-cutting measures combined to create a water system with ” abnormally high levels of e. coli, trihamlomethanes, lead, and copper,” which caused severe health problems for many local residents.

shutterstock_99487787  For years, Flint enjoyed excellent water pumped from Lake Huron. But under pressure from rising water costs, a shrinking tax-base, and an overwhelming debt, leaders in Michigan and Flint made the decision to begin pumping water from the Flint River. In April 2014, Flint made the switch and residents began to notice a bad taste in the water and a nasty smell. Initial tests revealed there were dangerous levels of bacteria and other compounds present. Flint issued boil orders and increased the amount of chlorine in their water to try and address the issues, but those measures didn’t resolve all the problems. While some local officials attempted to raise the alarm, the process of addressing the issues with Flint’s water was extremely slow.

As concern about the water quality grew among residents, local officials assured residents that the problem was under control, but a local mother, Lee Anne Walters, and others continued to ask questions about the quality of the water and to push for increased water testing. The initial results from the local testing agencies seemed to indicate that the level of lead in Flint’s water was acceptable, but Ms. Walters and others doubted the results of the local tests and continued to push for more and better testing. Determined to discover the truth about her water, Ms. Walters contacted an independent researcher from Virginia Tech University, Marc Edwards, who quickly discovered that Flint’s water contained extremely unsafe levels of lead. Ms. Walters and Professor Edwards contacted state and local officials and media outlets to make it clear that the danger was real. Thanks to the persistence of Ms. Walters, the research of Professor Edwards, the work of other researchers, and the pressure from the media, the water problems in Flint have finally been properly identified and the process of bringing safe drinking water back to the residents of Flint is now underway. An extensive timeline detailing all the events in the Flint, Michigan water crisis can be found here.

Discussion Questions

  • The residents of Flint make up a tiny, tiny percentage of the population of the United States, so why do you think the water crisis in Flint became a major national news story?
  • God calls us to be good stewards of all our gifts. What can you do to care for the gift of water?
  • Ms. Walters was determined to find out the truth and would not stop asking questions until she got answers. Why do you think she was so persistent in her pursuit of the truth?

Second Sunday in Lent

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

Philippians 3:17-4:1

Luke 13:31-35
(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 B at Lectionary Readings
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

The Pharisees come to Jesus with a warning – “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you” (Lk 13:31). While you or I might be worried or intimidated by these words, Jesus seems entirely unconcerned by the threat. There is ministry to be done. There are people to heal. There are demons to be cast out. Jesus won’t be rushed. Jesus won’t be sidetracked by the threat of death. He knows that his death will not be caused by Herod’s anger. Jesus knows what awaits him in Jerusalem. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” Jesus says, “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” (Lk 13:34). Jesus knows how his story will end and he accepts his impending death because he trusts that his crucifixion and resurrection will be the final step in accomplishing his mission to love, bless, and save God’s people.

Trusting in God’s power, Jesus lives without fear. He is focused on who he is called to be and what he is called to do. As powerful as Herod is, God’s power is far, far stronger. Nothing, not even mighty Herod, will prevent Jesus from helping the afflicted, teaching God’s Word and completing is ministry of salvation.

It’s easy sometimes for us to get sidetracked when we feel pressure from those in power, from our peers or from the world around us. It’s easy to doubt ourselves or the goal we are trying to accomplish, but just like Jesus, we too know how our story will end. As children of God, united to Jesus’ death and resurrection by the waters of baptism, we know the promise of hope and salvation for all God’s people. You and I may not be casting out demons or healing people in the same way that Jesus was doing, but just like Jesus, we too can live without fear and focus on our calling to be God’s heart and hands and voices in the world. Using our gifts to take part in Jesus’ mission to love and bless the world.

Discussion Questions

  • How do you think the Pharisees expected Jesus to respond when they told him about Herod’s threat? How do you think the Pharisees responded when Jesus basically ignored their warning?
  • Fear is a powerful emotion. Name a resource (scripture verse, friend, mentor, music, book, blog, twitter feed, etc) that helps you know that God is with you when you are afraid?
  • What is one way that you can participate in God’s mission to love and bless the world?

Activity Suggestion

Use some of the activities in the ELCA World Hunger: Water and Hunger toolkit to learn more about water we use on a daily basis without realizing it and to raise awareness of the gift of water.

Closing Prayer

O God, you are a source of help and strength in times of trouble. Comfort us with your Spirit in our times of fear and trouble. Inspire us by Jesus’ example and by your powerful love to care for creation, to love our neighbor and to be your hearts and hands and voices in the world. Amen.

May 5, 2013–Standardized Test

Contributed by Seth Moland-Kovash, Palatine, IL

Warm-up Question

Are you a patient person? Do you find it easy or hard to wait?

Standardized Test

shutterstock_124800556editThe Veterans Administration is the branch of our government responsible for providing benefits (medical, educational, housing, etc) for veterans of the armed forces. One of the most significant jobs is disability benefits.  If a person is injured during their military service, they are entitled to financial compensation. There is currently a very significant backlog of veterans who are waiting to find out if they will get benefits and to receive those benefits. Over 200,000 veterans have been waiting at least one year for a decision.

General Eric Shinseki, who is the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and the head of the Veterans Administration, recently announced new plans and strategies to clear the backlog. He has also introduced plans that he hopes will allow all future claims to be cleared within 125 days, much less than the wait currently experienced. This story ( explains some of the reasons for the long backlog and what Shinseki and the VA plan to do about it.


Discussion Questions

  •  Have you ever had to wait as long as a year for something? What did it feel like?
  • What do you think the rest of us can do to help veterans who are waiting for these benefits and decisions?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 5, 2013 (Sixth Sunday of Easter)

Acts 16:9-15

Revelation 21:10, 22–22:5

John 5:1-9 

(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 John 5:1-9, Jesus meets a man who had been waiting a long time for benefits, for healing and health care. Of course, things worked a bit differently in his time. There wasn’t a Veterans Administration to write a check, but there was a pool where people waited and found healing when they were dipped into the waters. The problem for this man was that the healing only happened when the water was stirred up, and whenever that happened, other people who could actually walk ran into the water ahead of him and blocked his path. His infirmity kept him from getting the help he needed. And so he had been ill for 38 years.

He specifically says that “I have no one to put me into the pool.” If he had had friends or family or someone with compassion nearby who could lower him into the pool, his own inability to walk would not have mattered. But he was alone. His suffering was intensified by his isolation. So Jesus told him to stand up and walk. And he did.

Discussion Questions

  • Who in our world or in your community is isolated? How does that keep them from getting the healing they need?
  • What do you think the rest of us can do to help people who feel they cannot access healing because of their isolation?

Activity Suggestions

Visit shut-ins from your congregation in coordination with your pastor. Bring them flowers or just show up and smile. They will love the visit.

Closing Prayer

Good and gracious God, we thank you for the healing you bring and the ways you help us to bridge gaps and to reach out to one another. Amen.


April 21, 2013–Sheep and Shepherd

Contributed by Scott Moore, Erfurt, Germany


Warm-up Question

What kind of voice do you like to listen to?

Sheep and Shepherd

Sheep are putting lawnmowers out of work. The mayor of Paris, France, Bertrand Delanoë, is working to make the city a little more “green” and ecologically friendly by using four black sheep from the South West of France. It is called “eco-grazing.”  Their job is to eat the grass in front of Paris’ Municipal Archives. They are kept behind a solar-powered electric fence.

The sheep are drawing attention to the archives, which is something the director, was hoping for. Originally, the director of the archives, Agnès Masson, wanted to get a donkey or some other animal but finally accepted the four sheep. This is a project that appears to be great for the environment and an interesting attempt to raise awareness to a cultural/historical resource in a neighborhood of Paris that does not have any museums or cultural institutions.


Discussion Questions

  • Would you let a sheep mow your lawn?
  • What chores do you have to do that you wish an animal could do? Which animal could do it?
  • What other natural ways could you get “chores” done?
  • Could you imagine sheep eco-grazing the lawn around your school or your city hall or state capital?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 21, 2013 (Fourth Sunday of Easter)

Acts 9:36-43

Revelation 7:9-17

John 10:22-30

(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

shutterstock_69755869editThis Sunday in the church year is often referred to as “Good Shepherd Sunday”. The readings always have something to do with God and Jesus and followers as sheep. In this gospel text, there are a couple of elements that call out for our attention. One of them is the part of the story that has some tension in it. Jesus is put on the spot by Jewish believers at the temple. They want to know if he really is the Messiah. They pressure him to tell them. Jesus basically says, “You missed it. I’ve performed miracles, I’ve healed, I’ve taught and you still don’t get it. You’re not going to get it now no matter what I say.” They aren’t listening. They can’t hear his voice. It is then that Jesus changes the direction away from their expectations and toward God’s reality. God takes care of the sheep. God the Father and, in this case, God’s Son are in the sheep caring business together. And, this business is about not losing sheep.

When we experience difficult times, we look to words of comfort that tell us how much God loves us. We cherish the image of God and Jesus as loving shepherds protecting us sheep. Sometimes, however, we are just like the religious leaders in this text. We place demands on God. We want God to just “speak plainly” to us. We want to know God is with us. We want to know that Jesus the Messiah is who we think he is. But, just as Jesus doesn’t let himself get put into a box and try to prove himself out of it, God cannot be put into a box. God is bigger than our wants, yet God cares for us all the same.

Sometimes we believe we hear the voice of God in some form. Sometimes we want proof. This is what it is like to live as followers of the Risen Christ. It is certainty in the midst of uncertainty. The good news is that both Father and Son are in a divine community concerned about us. We have the stories of the faith in Scripture and we have the stories of the faith in our lives today. We are encouraged to trust in what have and to work at being open to God’s presence in our lives. We are also promised eternal life as a result in participating in God.

Discussion Questions

  •  When have you asked for someone to speak plainly and explain something to you again?
  • When have you felt like you wanted God/Jesus to prove something to you?
  • When have you felt lost and wanted God to find you and bring you back into the fold?
  • What kind of proofs have you expected from God/Jesus?
  • When do you find it difficult to listen?

Activity Suggestion

Shepherd Whispers— This is the game “Simon Says” but with the phrase “Shepherd Whispers” instead. The leader (Shepherd) gives commands for the sheep to follow but whispered so the sheep have to strain to hear the Shepherd’s voice. But they only follow when the Shepherd says “Shepherd Whispers X”, “Shepherd Whispers Y”. If the Shepherd doesn’t say/whisper it, then the sheep shouldn’t do it. Those that miss a command are “out”…the twist is at the end, the Shepherd says, “Shepherd Whispers, all are welcome, all are mine, all God’s sheep are loved.”  A variation for this game would be to do the activity with eyes closed or using a blindfold

Closing Prayer

Loving God, you held us close when we were in pain and you sought us out when we were lost. Make your presence known to us now. Speak to us plainly. Keep us in the fold of your loving embrace. We ask this in the name of our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Amen

April 29, 2012–Feeling a Little Sheepish

Contributed by Aaron Matson, location Toronto, SD


Warm-up Questions

What do you know about sheep and shepherds? What images and thoughts come to mind when you hear those words?

Feeling a Little Sheepish

The images of God (and Jesus) as a good shepherd and God’s people as sheep are fairly common in the Bible. Because sheep and shepherds were so common in the ancient world, this imagery painted a vivid picture of God’s relationship with God’s people to the early audiences of the Bible.

Because sheep and shepherds aren’t a large part of our culture, we can have a hard time understanding what it means to say we are sheep and that Jesus is our good shepherd. Maybe the only image of sheep you have is of cute, fluffy creatures which you count when you can’t sleep. Maybe you think shepherding would be a nice, peaceful life, watching cute creatures do cute things.

The thing is, sheep are smelly, stubborn animals and shepherding is a dirty, hard job.  Sheep are herd animals, and unquestioningly follow the herd where it goes. They are easily influenced, and “led astray” by a dominant member of the herd. They hate being sheared, even though it’s necessary for their own health. Shepherding means shearing the sheep, even though they hate it.  If their wool gets too heavy, they fall over, can not get back up, and eventually die.  Left unguarded they are easy prey for predators.  Sheep require constant attention and care–or they wander off, get into food that is bad for them, and fall victim to wolves or coyotes.


Discussion Questions

  • How do you feel about being called a sheep now?
  • What does it mean to be called a sheep?
  • What does it mean to call Jesus a shepherd?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 29, 2012 (Fourth Sunday of Easter)

 Acts 4:5-12

1 John 3:16-24

John 10:11-18

(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

After learning about sheep, we might not like being called sheep very much. But we can be like sheep sometimes, can’t we? We can be pretty stubborn. We can follow along with the rest of the “herd” without question, whether or not the herd is going the right way. We often resist doing the things that are good for us if they seem unpleasant. Without people who care for us, we may fall into doing things that are bad for us and fall victim to predators who take advantage of us. We are too much like sheep for comfort.

The good news is that we have a Good Shepherd in Jesus Christ to watch over us and protect us. Jesus loved us, his sheep, so much that he gave up his life for us on the cross, and then rose again to conquer death for us once and for all.  

And we, who have been made the Good Shepherd’s sheep, recognize our shepherd’s voice. There is a lot of static and noise in the world. There are a lot of distractions, worries, and troubles, and a lot of other voices which shout at us to gain our attention and loyalty. There are a lot of things in the world which try to be our shepherd. But we have the promise from Jesus that through all of the noise we will know his voice. Not because we are smart enough, pure enough, or good enough to tell which voice is his, but because Jesus is our shepherd.

In those times when you are lost (and I’m sorry to say, there will be times in your life, when no matter how much love and support you are surrounded by, you will be truly lost), remember that you are the sheep of a Good Shepherd. We are the sheep of a shepherd who loves us, no matter how stubborn or smelly we are, or how lost we are.   Our shepherd isl always  with us, calling to us, offering us peace, forgiveness, and new life. Nothing–not heights nor depths, not despair or heartbreak, not angels or demons, not even death itself—can separate you from the love of your Good Shepherd.

Discussion Questions

  •  What are some of those voices that compete for our attention and want us to follow them instead of Jesus?
  •  How can we help each other listen for our Shepherd’s voice?

Activity Suggestions

  • See how many references you can find in the Bible to God or Jesus as a “shepherd” and the people as “sheep.”
  • Look at your congregation’s hymnals and see how many hymns talk about us as “sheep” and God or Jesus as a “shepherd.” If possible, sing one of them.
  • Invite someone who raises sheep to come and speak to your group about what it’s like to raise sheep. If a member of your group has experience raising sheep, have them talk about it. If you can’t find someone who raises sheep, it might also work to invite someone who raises other kinds of livestock to talk about how much time and effort it takes.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Good Shepherd. Continue to guide us so that we might not go astray, and watch over us and protect us from all harm and evil. Help us to show your love and care to others, that all may know you as their Good Shepherd. Amen.