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November 4-11, 2009 – Underwater meeting makes a splash

Contributed by Matthew R. Nelson and Konor Clark (9th Grade, Walla Walla High School)
Christ Lutheran Church, Walla Walla, WA

Warm-up Question:  Describe a situation when you thought someone set a good example for others?

underwater-meeting160Girifushi, Maldives — To the lowest-lying nation on earth, global warming is a serious issue. Some fear that due to the melting of polar ice caps, the islands of Maldives could be under water in less than a century. At the present, the island averages only 7 feet above sea level.

To bring attention to this fact, President Mohammed Nasheed, a certified diver, and 13 other members of the Maldives cabinet dawned scuba gear and held an underwater meetingcomplete with tables and chairs in a lagoon off the island of Girifushi. Some members took scuba instruction just to be able to participate. Three officials could not attend due to health reasons and other travel responsibilities. Using hand signals to communicate the president and those present signed a document calling on all nations to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

Nasheed, representing approximately 350,000 people on 1,192 low-lying islands, has emerged as a primary voice on climate change. He has vowed to make the Maldives the world’s first carbon-neutral nation in the next ten years, and has announced plans for a fund to purchase a homeland and relocate citizens should submersion of the islands become eminent.

The meeting was intended to issue a sense of urgency to nations that will be attending a U.N. climate change conference in December. Wealthy nations are rallying for emissions cuts from all countries, while poorer nations seem to feel that the industrialized nations should carry more of the burden to achieve recommended goals.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think global warming and climate change are serious issues? Can it or does it effect your environment locally or regionally?
  2. What are the obvious issues in the global warming debate? Are there hidden issues and agendas? Who benefits and who suffers with those agendas?
  3. Have you ever done something out of the ordinary to get someone’s attention? Was it effective? Why or why not?
  4. What choices do you make that have a positive or negative impact on the world around you? On your congregation or community? Do you think your contributions and choices are recognized and make a difference?
  5. How important is it to you to be recognized for the things you do?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 8, 2009.

(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 was an attentive and flexible teacher, using his surroundings and immediate circumstances to weave what was clearly observable into a more challenging spiritual context and lesson. As he was teaching, his focus was on the scribes who expected to be treated uniquely because of their status and knowledge. They acted one way, saying long prayers, while benefiting from the offerings of the rich and the poor; everyone was expected to give to their treasury. They were public figures who expected respect for exhibiting leadership and their own attributes of faith.

But as Jesus sat near the treasury to teach, his focus was not on the obvious, the actions of the Scribes and the gifts of the rich, but on the almost invisible forgotten gift of the widow.

penneys170When the widow’s two copper coins fell amongst the very noticeable offerings given by others ahead of her, Jesus seized the opportunity to open his disciple’s eyes to the gift she had given. Certainly, when the treasury was accounted for, her coins would not be thrown away. They would be used. Giving to the treasury was expected, but for those who had next to nothing to give, it was a tremendous sacrifice in comparison to those who gave so little from their abundance. The widow’s contribution counted because she sacrificed more than she could afford to.

As the United Nations addresses the issue of global warming, every contribution will count towards a better future for the world. It is often simpler to look at the more populated and industrialized nations to identify issues related to carbon dioxide emissions. At the same time, a large industrialized nation might hold itself up in front of the world saying “Look, we have reduced our emissions by 10%” while continuing to be the largest polluter and contributor to the problem.

As the international discussion continues, President Mohammed Nasheed has vowed to make the little islands of Maldives the first carbon-neutral nation in the world. Their underwater meeting might amount to just two simple coins in context of the world’s voice, but their goals, if accomplished, will set a standard of disproportionate giving. It may represent a standard of sacrifice to better the future of the world; a standard that Jesus would recognize in the midst of all the pageantry and high visibility of international discussions, politics, media coverage, meetings of powerful leaders, and global actions.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do small offerings of time, talent, or money really make a difference? Why or why not? Can you give an example? (Some Sunday School offerings might amount to only a few dollars a week, but they might be given to a homeless shelter or used to buy a jacket or blanket for someone in need.)
  2. Are there ways that you think your congregation, community, local government, or state can impact the world both locally and globally through seemingly small actions or decisions? How does considering the future or people beyond our immediate community shape our actions differently than if we just think about immediate needs or wants?
  3. To what actions do the gospel and our faith lead us? (As uncomfortable as they may be.)
  4. In what ways are you challenged to live and express your faith without reward or recognition or proof that great things will happen a a result?

Activity Suggestion

  • Plan a ‘green day’ for your congregation during which ride sharing and walking to church set an example for your community — and each other. Contact local media to see if they are willing interview members of the congregation or provide local coverage. Look for other ways your group or congregation can save energy or reduce its footprint in the interest of caring for the environment and becoming healthier.
  • Search or study the following Web sites. You’ll find ELCA statements and information on the environment and global warming:
  • Create a list of common ways that individuals in your congregation can help lessen their footprint and save energy and resources. Copy and distribute the list in your bulletin or hand it out after worship. Create resources for your Web site.
  • Does your congregation pass the offering plate through the pews during the worship service? How do you feel about this practice? What alternative ways are there for us to contribute the finances and gifts we have been blessed with? Do you think your recommendations would help or hurt the church financially? Why? Why not?
  • Work to involve all ages in supporting the ministries of your congregation. Be creative in providing options that are age-appropriate and interesting. Spread the word in as many ways as possible that even the smallest of gifts or contributions help support the mission of the church. Don’t forget to interpret and describe what our mission and ministries are about. Learn more about youth stewardship at Stewardship 10-10-80.

Closing Prayer

Lord our God, as you know, we may not have the riches of the world, but there is one thing you have given us that goes beyond all material riches — eternal life. Lord let it be known that it’s not how much we have or how much we give, it’s that you have given us the great gifts of faith, love, and eternal life. Lord we thank you for your teachings and all that you have given us, even if it sometimes seems like small coins to us. Teach us to be generous with what we have, like the the story of the widow and her small coins. In your name we pray and give thanks. Amen.

August 19-26, 2009 – Suu Kyi receives extended house arrest in Myanmar

Contributed by Matthew R. Nelson
Walla Walla, WA

Warm-up Question: Have you ever been discouraged enough to give up on an idea, project, or goal?

san_suu200Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was convicted of violating her house arrest on Tuesday after an uninvited American stayed at her home. She is to serve an additional 18-month sentence.

Suu Kyi’s detention has already spanned 14 of the last 20 years, most under house arrest. The additional sentence will effectively remove her from contact with the public leading up to next year’s elections in Myanmar (Burma).

U.S. citizen John Yettaw swam a restricted lake to reach the home of Suu Kyi after claiming he had a vision of an assassination attempt on her life. He will receive three years for breaching her house arrest and three years for swimming in a restricted zone. He is scheduled to serve his sentences consecutively at Insein prison. (John Yettaw was freed on Sunday, Aug. 16, after international pressure and the visit of a U.S. senator.)

The maximum sentence for Suu Kyi was to be five years in prison or three years hard labor. By order of Chief Senior General Than Shwe, her sentence, as well as those of her house companions, was commuted to be served at home, a move the junta leader said would help maintain stability and peace.

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu denounced the trial as illegal and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the trial should never have taken place.

International reaction has ranged from requests for a global arms embargo of Myanmar, to public statements from Amnesty International calling the sentence for Suu Kyi shameful legal theater since it comes just weeks before her current sentence was to expire.

Discussion Questions

  • Can you name a person whose authority or decision making powers you respect? Has that person and his or her decisions always lived up to your expectations? If not, how did you express your feelings or opinions to them?
  • Can you name a situation when peer pressure influenced you in your decision making? Did it help or did you feel uncomfortable with the decision you made? Why?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, August 23, 2009.

(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 Gospel today presents a true crossroad and genuine question for those who follow Christ, both then and now. At the heart of the matter is not Christ’s identity, but our identity in and through Christ.

Crowds gathered around Jesus for all kinds of reasons: curiosity, healing, political and religious power. Today’s Gospel takes all of those and lays down the pre-crucifixion groundwork, looking for listening ears and willing hearts. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” (vs. 56)  And, “…I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.” (vs. 57) Jesus’ words, body, and spirit bring eternal life. Yet even as he taught in the synagogue in Capernaum, his disciples complained and questioned him. Many left, and only the twelve remained. (vs. 65-69)

Suu Kyi is the daughter of Aung San, a hero who is credited with winning Myanmar’s independence from Britain. By keeping her under house arrest, the military can conduct future elections without her influence on the public. There is more control when she is controlled in this situation, even as international pressure mounts for her release.

The expectations surrounding Jesus provided political and religious division and turmoil soon after today’s lesson. Jesus did not bow to pressure from any side or faction. He continued to teach of God’s revelation of love through himself, and through those chosen to hear and understand his words. Ultimate control was not, and is not, in the hands of  humans. God’s love is revealed and exercised in and through Jesus’ words and actions no matter what we do, decide, or think we have control over.

God has chosen us to be participants in the fullness of eternal life through Christ. It is both invitation and gift — at the same time. What will our response be as we face political, religious, and social challenges in today’s world?

Discussion Questions

  • What difficult choices do you think we face as modern day Christians and Lutherans? Are you more likely to participate in discussion and action or quietly sit in the background when it comes to these issues and choices? Why?
  • Is there an issue in your community that you feel strongly about? Have you taken action about that issue? Why? Why not?
  • Discuss how the ELCA and its ministries are active in the world. What does the ELCA’s new tagline “God’s work. Our hands.” say to you about our church and its mission. What does it suggest or describe? What does it say about you?

Activity Suggestions

The ELCA holds its 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minnesota, August 17-23, 2009. The theme is “God’s work. Our hands.” The issues being considered for action are: 

  • Full communion with the United Methodist Church
  • “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” a proposed ELCA social statement
  • Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies
  • Possible social statement on justice for women
  • Funding of the HIV and AIDS strategy
  • Lutheran Malaria Initiative
  • Amendments to the ELCA Constitution, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions
  • 2010, 2011 budget proposals for ELCA churchwide organization
  • Memorials
  • Resolutions
  • Elections

(Learn more about the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, its purpose and structure, who can attend and vote, and the issues and actions being considered.)

Study the agenda and pray for your congregation’s voting members at the Churchwide Assembly, and the representatives of our synodical and churchwide leadership. Once you’ve learned some of the background, discuss what opinions and convictions exist in your own group. 

  • How would you vote on different issues?
  • How do the outcomes and decisions effect your life?
  • Knowing that there are many differing opinons and thoughts across the church, how can we work to continue living as a community of believers exercising grace, understanding, respect, honesty, and open conversation with each other?

Plan a class session to follow up on the voting results of the assembly.

Request permission to have a representative of your class attend a church council meeting and report back to the class the following Sunday (or whenever you meet). Note any opportunities to participate in the ministries of your congregation, both large and small. Choose a project or a way of being involved that the class or individuals can follow up on with the church council or congregational leadership.

Closing Prayer

Lord Jesus, you have the words of eternal life. Bless our churchwide representatives as they faithfully discuss, consider, and make decisions on issues important in our lives, church, and society. Continue to motivate each of us to take action when called upon to do so, that your life and love may ever be glorified. Amen.

May 6-13, 2009 – A tribute to players snubbed by the NFL draft

Contributed by Matthew R. Nelson
Walla Walla, WA

Warm-up Question: Read John 15:3. What does it mean (for you/for us) to be cleansed by the words of Christ?

Not everyone who is chosen in the annual NFL draft will secure a spot on the roster of the team that chose them. For some that were not picked, the prospects of eventually making an NFL team are minimal at best.

There are always some oddities in the 256 pick process called Draft Day. This year, the quarterback from Kent State was picked to be a potential receiver by the Patriots. The Cardinals used pick #131 to make Greg Toler the first student athlete ever chosen from St. Paul’s (VA), a Division II school. Also selected from Division II were Abilene Christian teammates Johnny Knox and Bernard Scott, who were taken at #140 by the Bears and #209 by the Bengals, respectively. The three players from Division II schools outnumbered draft picks from nine major collegiate institutions and equaled those from four others.

Other surprises included Demetrius Byrd, chosen by the San Diego Chargers with their last pick in the seventh round. He remains hospitalized with serious injuries resulting from a car accident; injuries that might even prevent him from playing again. The Broncos in the 2nd round picked North Carolina tight end Richard Quinn, even though he only had 12 catches in two years with the school. And one of the pre-draft favorites of some, Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter, was picked by the Colts in the sixth round, even though he lost his starting job temporarily in 2008.

As always, some players were picked higher in the draft than some expected, some were picked lower, and some players who were expecting to be drafted were not. The person making the pick in the draft decides the value of a player and his potential. In spite of very meticulous research and a clear set of needs that teams hope to fill with draft picks, some players will exceed expectations and many will never live up to them.

Discussion Questions

  • The New Student Bible (NRSV) notes that the same Greek root for ‘cleansed’ refers also to pruning, (vs. 3). What types of things does God prune from you emotionally or behaviorally in order that you might abide in Christ?
  • Read John 14:30-31. Why do you think Jesus moved from the privacy of speaking with his disciples to a more public forum? Walking or riding would surely attract more people, and the events that followed lead directly to the crucifixion.
  • What questions would you have for Christ if you were in the disciple’s shoes on that day?
  • Before (John 14:28) and after (John 16:5) the lesson today, Jesus speaks of departing or leaving the disciples to continue in ministry and mission. Do you think the disciples felt empowered or abandoned as Jesus spoke to them?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 10, 2009.

(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 had already foretold of his betrayal and of Peter’s denial. Now he is speaking of departing, of leaving them to continue in his mission. Questions must have been racing through their minds. Understanding this, Christ simply and calmly says, “You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.” (John 15:3)

That’s it! The essence of Jesus’ message to his disciples and to us is that amidst all of our concern, amidst all of our doubt, and even amidst any shortcomings that we might have, we have been chosen and should begin our mission and calling immediately, fully cleansed and prepared. 

Christ’s example in life, and his the sacrifice on the cross have grafted us into the living vine, and the vine grower’s field. Now, with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, the advocate, each of us will experience the blessing of being a blessing as our gifts and talents are used to glorify God in this world.

The NFL draft is an interesting process full of hope and anticipation for hundreds of collegiate athletes who hope to continue their football careers. A football career would mean a lifestyle far from the ordinary. Even with a college degree to fall back on, life without football means a future uncertain, and a plunge into a different kind of competitive job market. Football is their skill, and football is their desire.

Being chosen in the draft, however, is not the end accomplishment of hard work. It is the beginning of a new relationship with a team that will take all of your past experiences and skills, and mold them to better their own mission, to win a Super Bowl. Through continued work and practice, players are stripped of poor habits and cleansed in their discipline to perform on the field. Coaches and trainers teach, and then lead gently and not so gently from the sidelines during each game.

Jesus chose his original disciples as he began his adult public ministry. He chose ordinary people, from fishermen to tax collectors. These ordinary people witnessed and experienced some extraordinary things as they walked with Jesus. They bonded with their teacher, and he bonded with them. Their sense of privilege in being chosen by Jesus and their sense of belonging must have been tremendous, right up until our lesson today.

Discussion Questions 

  • What are the gifts or skills you believe that God has given you in order that you might glorify his name?
  • Have you experienced the joy or rejection of being chosen or not chosen to participate in an activity or sport? Answers might range from school and neighborhood games to more serious auditions for music, plays, and team sports. Share something positive about that experience. Was it positive at the time, or do you look back at it more positively now? Why? 
  • Being trained and then left to do something is a part of all work experiences. Describe a situation or time when you thought you weren’t ready for the task at hand? How did you feel? What did you do? How did you work through the situation? Did you pray about it and ask God for help? What did you ask for?
  • Sometimes being a Christian singles you out for criticism, making us just a little different than many of our friends. Jesus tells his disciples in John 15:27 that in spite of the world and of persecution of any kind, that we are to testify on his behalf because we have been with him from the beginning. How do you feel about that? Why?

Activity Suggestions

  • Sing “His Banner Over Me is Love.” One version with chords is available at take a note pad to worship. Without writing names, look at other members of the congregation and write down what you think their gifts and talents are. Post the list in the Narthex or in the church bulletin or newsletter. Title it “Gifts we have that glorify God.”  
  • Sometimes we overlook or undervalue our own gifts, (question #1 above). Write each group member’s name on a piece of paper. By their name, write one gift or talent you think they have. Give them to your group leader, who can write the gifts and talents on the chalkboard or dry erase board, without names. This gives everyone the opportunity to say something positive about others, but doesn’t single anyone out. You can lead the activity verbally if you feel comfortable doing so.

Closing Prayer

Lord we praise your name and thank you for first choosing us. Send now the Holy Spirit, the advocate, that we might know your continued presence and work to glorify your name. Amen.

March 18-25, 2009 – Example of God’s love… on a bicycle

Contributed by Matthew R. Nelson
Walla Walla, WA

Warm-up Question: How do you share your gifts, talents, and time to reflect God’s love?
(From the ELCA News Service, “Lutherans Embrace Man Who Embodied Christ’s Love,” 03/04/2009)

John Breaux helped others using every opportunity possible. While he appeared homeless, he was known for his generosity. He would open doors for others, leave flowers randomly to cheer people up, and often brought food to people in need.

He seemed good natured and happy and rode his bicycle many miles daily, often picking up litter along the way to help keep Colorado beautiful, or stopping to pull weeds at someone’s home because it looked like they could use the help.

John was often mistaken as homeless in the suburban communities surrounding Boulder, CO. He had a bushy beard and often smelled dirty because he picked up and carried trash. He was missing teeth and slurred his speech.

Someone worried that a passing car might hit him, so they purchased a bicycle helmet for him. Others gave him clean clothes to wear for his comfort, which he gave away to someone he thought needed them more than he did. Once, he was handed a $50 bill at church. He put it in the offering plate.

Among all of John’s qualities and behaviors, his desire to be like Jesus stood out. He had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in his 20s according to a newspaper article.

Now, the communities he blessed with his giving are mourning his death. He had stopped to gather loose cans and pull weeds along a road and was struck by a driver taking prescription drugs for dementia. Nearly 2000 people attended his funeral. A memorial fund was set up in his honor. Said one local Lutheran woman, “We will miss him. He taught us that we can all be examples of God’s love.”

Read the whole story

Discussion Questions

  • Share an example of someone you know that uses his or her time, gifts, and talents to reflect God’s love… like John Breaux did. Why are they a good example?
  • What are some of the simpler things we can all do that reflect God’s love? What are some of the more difficult?
  • Does giving of your time, talent, and gifts seem like more of a burden or a responsibility? Does the giving we do require sacrifice every time?
  • How important is it to be recognized publicly for giving, or is it more rewarding to contribute and help others without recognition? Why? What are your expectations when you help or care for someone?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, March 22, 2009.

(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

John 3:16. My Bible refers to this scripture as the gospel in a nutshell. It is not uncommon to see sports fans holding up signs with John 3:16 written on them, hoping that the poster might be seen by television viewers everywhere. It is a seemingly simple witness, recognized by many.

You and I are unable on our own to comprehend the ultimate sacrifice that Christ made on the cross so that humankind would be offered redemption. We are recipients of the gift of belief as the Holy Spirit guides each of us in our faith walk. The same Holy Spirit encourages us to reflect the gift of God’s love to others through our words, actions, decisions, and lives.

The news story recognizes John Breaux as someone whose identity was defined in several ways. While he appeared dirty and often smelled, he seized opportunities to give to others. While he seemed homeless, he made an impression in several communities and congregations that he visited, demonstrating servanthood to others. Children even referred to him as ‘Jesus’ at times.

Christ made the ultimate sacrifice, by dying on a cross so that through faith, we will have eternal life. But the cross is not the end of the story. Even before Christ was crucified, he exemplified God’s nature and desire for us through his actions in the communities and countryside where he walked, taught, preached, and healed. With every word and action, Christ called the people of his day to be God’s love to others.

With the guidance and motivation of the Holy Spirit, we receive the gift of faith which calls us to action. Like John Breaux, we have every opportunity to exemplify God’s love and sacrifice for the world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”

Who will the Holy Spirit lead you to touch with God’s love this week?

Discussion Questions

  • What kind of freedom or restriction do you believe you experience through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross? Why?
  • John Breaux was stereotyped as dirty and homeless, yet he spent much of his time helping others or just being kind to people and his surroundings. Who have you stereotyped in the past? Did your stereotype of them prevent you from taking an opportunity to do something kind, or from leting them care for you?
  • What needs do you feel are not being met in your community or congregation? What should be done? Who should do it?
  • How do people outside of your worshipping community know that you are a faithful servant of Jesus? Do you conduct yourself differently? Why? Why not? What assumptions or impressions of your congregation do you think people have in your community or neighborhood?

Activity Suggestion

God’s love calls us to action as we reflect our faith in this world. Answer #1 individually, and then share your answers. Take a few minutes to do #2 individually.

  • “As a faithful servant, and with God’s help, I try to…”
  • Write an anonymous thank you card to someone you know (in your congregation) thanking them for the example they set for you. Mail them using the church’s address for the return address.Spend five minutes discussing needs that you think are not being met in your congregation or community. (Confidentiality might be in order if talking about your own congregation) 
    • Create a list following your discussion time. Title it: “Opportunities for Ministry.” Post it in your classroom or ask if you can print it in your church bulletin and/or newsletter.
    • If you ask to print it in your bulletin or newsletter, check with your evangelism & outreach committee or church council representatives to see if local organizations are meeting some of these needs, and whether they might need volunteers.
    • Make another list of the gifts, resources, and strengths your congregation and its members have to offer and put to use in serving the surrounding community. List the assets that your youth bring to the mix.

Closing Prayer

Close by praying the Lord’s Prayer together.