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October 13, 2013–The Cost of Healing

Contributed by John Wertz, Blacksburg, VA

Warm-up Question

Think about the last time you were really sick.  Who helped you to deal with your illness?  How did you express your gratitude to that person?

The Cost of Healing

Everyone will get sick at some point in their lives, however, since a visit to the doctor or the emergency room, can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, it has not always been possible for those who are sick to see a doctor, especially if they lack insurance.   According to the Health Insurance Coverage Estimates produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “In the first 3 months of 2013, 46.0 million persons of all ages (14.8%) were uninsured at the time of interview, 57.4 million (18.5%) had been uninsured for at least part of the year prior to interview, and 34.5 million (11.1%) had been uninsured for more than a year at the time of interview.”   When the statistics are examined more closely, it becomes clear that the uninsured rate is even higher for those on the lower end of the socio-economic scale.  For people who are considered poor (those earning up to $23,550 in income for a family of 4) or near poor (those earning up to $47,100 in income for a family of four), the uninsured rate rises to nearly 30%. (accessed Sept. 30, 2013 – and  For those struggling to make a living, therefore, adequate health care can be out of their financial reach and a major medical event can mean financial disaster.

In an attempt to provide access to health care to all Americans, the Federal government passed the Affordable Health Care Act in 2010.  After three years of lawsuits and political wrangling, the Act went into effect at the beginning of this month.  While it will be years, before the success or failure of this law can be accurately measured, in the short-term millions of our most vulnerable neighbors will now have access to medical insurance and the care that they need when they are ill.


Discussion Questions

  •  Do you think that access to health care is a right or a privilege?
  • Do you think a certain level of care should be available to everyone regardless of their financial resources?
  • For many people, money is at the heart of the discussion over health care.  How much do you think it should cost to go to the doctor?  How does that compare to what you are willing to pay for other goods and services?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, October 13, 2013 (Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost)

 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c

2 Timothy 2:8-15

Luke 17:11-19

(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


Photo by Radu Razvan /

“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Lk 17:13)  If there was ever a group of people who could use God’s mercy and the healing presence of Jesus, it was definitely the lepers.  These men and women, who were battling the affects of a long-term, debilitating disease, were outcasts from society and essentially unemployable.  Regardless of their social standing or skill set before they became ill, lepers were forced to survive on the charity of others and to live in a colony with those coping the disease.

Their cry, Luke says, came from a distance.  Lepers always kept their distance from the rest of society, because to get too close was to risk subjecting someone else to the pain and suffering that dominated their lives.   “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” was their plea, but what form did they expect Jesus’ mercy to take?  Were they seeking a financial donation from him like the donations they had sought from travelers before him?  Were they looking for a gift of food like the 5,000 had received?  Were they hoping for healing like the crippled woman who could now walk again?  Obviously, we cannot know everything that was racing through the minds of those ten lepers as they called out to Jesus, but Jesus’ response to their cry is immediate and clear, “Go and show yourselves to the priest.”(Lk 17:14)  He doesn’t ask them to jump through any hoops.  He doesn’t call them over so he can perform a ritual.  Jesus hears their cry for help and acts to restore health and wholeness to their lives.

The healing, it is worth noting, didn’t happen immediately.  It was only after the lepers obeyed Jesus’ command and began walking toward the priests who could certify their healing and release them from their unclean status that they noticed a change in their health.  As they walked, as they obeyed Jesus command, they experienced God’s healing power and were made well.

It’s hard to blame the nine who didn’t come back to thank Jesus and to praise God.  After all, Jesus told them to go to the priest and once they were declared clean, they could go home.  Almost anyone in their shoes would have raced to share the good news with their family and friends, but one leper returned.  One former leper gave glory to God in a loud voice and prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet.  One newly healed Samaritan understood that Jesus offered more than simply a path back into the world.   One man of faith believed in Jesus and discovered not simply physical healing, but the key to a whole, healthy life of faith.  Jesus command, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well” (Lk 17:19) is not the end of the story, but  a new beginning for this once ailing man who now returns to the world free from the horrors of leprosy and connected to the new life that comes from faith in Jesus.

Discussion Questions

  • If you were one of the ten lepers who were made clean, do you think you would have returned to thank Jesus?
  • Even though leprosy is not a major disease in the world today, there are still millions of people who are isolated and left out of society.  What are some of the ideas, situations and circumstances that make someone a ‘leper’ in today’s world?  What do you think it is like to live on the edges of society?
  • How can we follow Jesus’ example and show mercy to those who are in need of healing and hope?

Activity Suggestions

  • Work with your church to assembly Personal Care Kits or Baby Care Kits which can be distributed by Lutheran World Relief to people around the world in need of healing and help. More information on LWF kits can be found at:
  • “Thank You Day” – pick a day to go out of your way to say, “Thank You!”  Pay special attention to all the ways that people assist and help you throughout the day.  Acknowledge their help with words of thanks and consider writing a personal note to those who make the biggest impact in your life.

Closing Prayer

Gracious God, you reach out to us with your compassion and caring.  Bless all those who use their gifts to bring healing and health to others.  In our times of need, help us to experience your merciful presence and make us always thankful for the gifts you have given us.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

October 20-26, 2010–Schadenfreude

Contributed by Bob Chell, Lutheran Campus Pastor, South Dakota State University

Warm-up Question

What’s your favorite reality show? Why?


Google “why we love reality TV” and you will get 50,500,000 results in 0.24 seconds. Type in “list of reality TV shows” and you’ll find 500+ shows in 13 categories encompassing life from cradle (Toddlers in Tiaras) to teens (My Super Sweet Sixteen) young adults (Cribs) dating, (the Bachelor) marriage (Bridezilla) and the aftermath (Cheaters). The last is only one of the twenty two ‘hidden camera’ reality shows.

As television mirrors real life, real life returns the favor with the recent posting of a Duke University student’s web power point of her sexual partners titled “An Education Beyond the Classroom: Excelling in the Realm of Horizontal Academics” listing names and evaluating the sexual prowess of those with whom she shared her body.

It doesn’t stop there. Much like the twenty two “hidden camera” shows, a  Rutgers University student thought it would be funny to leave his webcam on when his roommate had a romantic encounter, twittering other friends to ‘tune in.’

His roommate, the unwitting star of the video, Tyler Clementi, took his life the next day, jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

YouTube now has a video about “the two worst people in the world” meaning, of course, those who posted the webcast on the internet…and, as day follows night, articles, video’s and, of course, Facebook groups condemning or defending all of those listed above. One cannot tell the victims from the victimizers.

Discussion Questions

  • How do you feel about yourself when you find yourself delighting in the misfortune of others?
  •  Why do people consent to be on a reality TV show. What does it say about them?
  • What does the proliferation of internet sites devoted to the misfortune of others say about our culture? About you and me?
  • Will you surf the net differently for having read this article?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, October 24, 2010 (Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost)

Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

Luke 18:9-14

(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

I love words and this text calls to mind two of my favorites; “supercilious” (soo-per-sil-ee-uh s) meaning “disdainful: having or showing arrogant superiority to and disdain of those one views as unworthy” and the German word, “schadenfreude” (\ˈshä-dən-ˌfrȯi-də\), meaning pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.

It is easy to see the Pharisee as supercilious. I love the word because pronounced aloud it contains the word ‘silly.’  And how silly for one person to think they are better than another, right? (Do not answer this question aloud.  I, like Jesus, am setting a trap for the unwary.)  Schadenfreude is the feeling we get when the trap is sprung.  Surely you’ve had the feeling, haven’t you? If you’ve ever been passed by a reckless driver going 30 miles over the speed limit only to see them pulled over by the state trooper five miles later, I know you have.

To be a Pharisee one had to be devout, taking faith seriously and working to live as God would have one live. Tax collectors did, in fact, impoverish others as they enriched themselves.  Both can be, and were, scoundrel or saint in different contexts.

Jesus didn’t come to tell bad people to be good people. When my children were young I remember driving by the county jail one day with them when one of them pointed to the jail saying, “That’s where they keep the bad people.” I wouldn’t have thought much of it if I hadn’t spent the previous afternoon visiting a student there. “No,” I said, “that’s where they keep good people who make bad choices.” Don’t get me wrong. I, like you, know there is evil in the world. Only a dolt would believe otherwise. Yet, at the end of the day there is only one kind of people not two. Jesus didn’t come to tell bad people to be good people, Jesus came to forgive sin and call us into discipleship.

If we are honest with ourselves, we can and do play both parts in Jesus’ parable.

Discussion Questions

  • Would you answer the warm up question differently after having read the news article and reflection?
  • Do you know people who, because they are smarter than others, believe they are better than others? How many words can you substitute for “smarter” in the above sentence?
  • What does it say about us when we find ourselves delighting in the misfortune of others?
  • Martin Luther said we were simul justus et peccator, both saint and sinner. What does this mean in the context of this parable?
  • Have you ever gone to a pastor, teacher, or someone else in authority to take responsibility for having hurt another? Did that ease or add to your burden? Why?
  • What is the significance of Jesus forgiving sin and calling us into discipleship versus calling us into discipleship and forgiving sin. 

Activity Suggestions

  • Read what this Wikipedia article says about simul justus et peccator,, and discuss whether you agree with Martin Luther.  Why or why not?
  • Keep a log of the time you spend watching reality shows this week, and another of the time you spend texting, chatting via the internet and on facebook. Next week talk about how these activities  enrich and impoverish your life.
  • Identify those places where things contrary to God’s way of living are portrayed as glamorous on TV and in your school or workplace.
  • Pray for the saints and scoundrels you see on TV, in your school or workplace, and in your homes. Include yourself.

Closing Prayer

Forgiving God, I have mocked and teased others and relished their misfortune. Forgive me and break open my heart so I can feel the pain of another. Healing God, I know the pain of my brokenness and work to hide it from others, from you, and from myself. Help me face my pain and give me the courage to share it with someone of trust, that your grace and forgiveness may become real in my life. Amen.

September 15-21, 2010–Doing Good by Doing Well?

Contributed by Eric Ullestad, West Des Moines, IA

Warm-up Question

When have you been given more responsibility than you thought you could handle?  How did it turn out?

Doing Good by Doing Well?

What’s it like to head up the world’s biggest company?  Mike Duke knows.  He was named CEO of Wal-Mart in 2009.  This was a daunting task for Duke.  He inherited a major improvement plan, Project Impact, from his predecessor, which gave a face-lift to nearly every Wal-Mart store around the world.  This multi-billion dollar project came on the heels of the nation’s biggest economic crisis in decades.  Duke soon discovered that, though shoppers liked the fresh look of the stores, they were visiting less frequently and spending less each time they came.

Wal-Mart has also endured its share of public-relations setbacks in the past few years.  “Big Box Stores” like Wal-Mart are often cited as reasons why smaller retailers are closing up shop.  Wal-Mart also came under fire for shady employment practices that required close to full-time labor from employees, but offered no benefits beyond an hourly wage.  Some people have called for a boycott of Wal-Mart stores because some of their products are manufactured in countries that don’t provide safe working conditions for farmers and textile workers.

Despite these, and other, obstacles, Wal-Mart continues to set the pace for global commerce, topping $408 billion in sales for 2010.  Being entrusted with the responsibility of running a company of 8,500 stores and 2.1 million employees is a task that Duke welcomes.  He is already looking to the future in the hopes of building a “next-generation Wal-Mart.”  This won’t be easy, as economists consider the possibility of a “double-dip” recession in the months ahead.  Duke believes that enhancing the company’s participation in social programs, ensuring living wages for employees, and adding stores in growing markets like China and India will be benchmarks of Wal-Mart’s future.

Discussion Questions

  • Would you want to be CEO of Wal-Mart?  Why or why not?
  • What challenges (financial, ethical, legal) would you encounter as the head of a major corporation?
  • How would you demonstrate your leadership abilities if you were given this kind of responsibility

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, September 19, 2010 (Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost)

Amos 8:4-7

1 Timothy 2:1-7

Luke 16:1-13

(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 Parable of the Shrewd (Dishonest) Manager, found in Luke 16:1-13, is one of the most perplexing tales in all of Scripture.  It has confounded scholars for centuries.  So, if you’re not quite sure what Jesus is trying to say, you’re in good company.

Jesus begins by telling his disciples, within an earshot of the Pharisees, about a manager who wasn’t taking good care of his master’s property.  The master is about to fire the manager, but before he is relieved of his duties, the manager has to turn over the accounting books to the master.  Quickly, the manager goes to the people who are indebted to the master and reduces their debt.  By doing this, he has built a relationship with the lowly servants in the community; a relationship that he may need to rely upon once he is unemployed. 

The odd thing about this story is that Jesus concludes by praising the tactics of the dishonest manager.  He even encourages the disciples to “make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth.”  Fortunately for us, he goes on to talk about faithfulness and responsibility.  Jesus calls his followers to be “faithful with what belongs to another,” indicating that if a person is responsible with caring for someone else’s possessions, they will prove themselves trustworthy to handle their own riches.

In many ways, the easiest verse in this passage to comprehend is also the most difficult verse to implement.  “You cannot serve God and wealth.”  It’s an interesting choice of word.  Notice he doesn’t say “money” or “possessions.”  Jesus says that wealth is the “master” that is in direct opposition to God. In other words, focusing on acquiring a lot of stuff isn’t the way that God works.

Consider the debtors in the parable.  A hundred containers of wheat and a hundred containers of oil were crippling debts to the poor people, but likely didn’t mean much to the wealthy master.  This is not unlike the world we live in today.  We currently have the highest concentration of wealth in recorded history.  The wealthiest 20% of the people in the world have 83% of the wealth, while the poorest 60% have only 6% of the wealth.

Perhaps this story can teach us that God rejects the systems that make it possible for wealth to be accumulated at the expense of the poor.  God doesn’t appear to be anti-stuff, God just wants to make sure everyone has enough to live.  Serving God, therefore, might mean doing what we can to bring about economic justice and equality to all of God’s people.  

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think Jesus praised the shrewd / dishonest manager?
  • How would you interpret this parable?
  • What can this parable teach us about faithfulness and responsibility? 
  • What do you think about what Jesus says in verse 13?
  • How do you find yourself serving the god of wealth? 


Activity Suggestion

Use your phones, computers, iPods, etc. to do some research on companies that are giving back to their workers, helping to reduce debt, or helping to lessen the gap between wealth and poverty.  (Examples include Fair Trade products, American Apparel clothing, Tom’s Shoes, and Justice Clothing.)  Discuss ways to support companies, especially locally owned businesses that reinvest their wealth in responsible ways.  Consider sharing your findings with people in your congregation.  Be creative!

Closing Prayer

God of abundance, thank you for the many blessings in our lives.  Help us to turn away from the false comfort of wealth and serve you by caring for those in need.  Amen.