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September 30-October 7, 2009 – Lutherans pass new Social Statement, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust”

Contributed by Pastor Jay McDivitt
Denver, CO

day-of-dead-wedding200Warm-up Question:  Do you dream about getting married someday? What do you think about when you think about marriage?

In its Churchwide Assembly in August, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America amended and adopted its tenth Social Statement in a close vote of the two-thirds required to pass. Social Statements are documents that guide ELCA Lutherans on responding to and discussing important social issues.

The new statement, entitled “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” attempts to provide a distinctly Lutheran approach to a wide array of issues related to human sexuality, including marriage, family, sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment, sex education, promiscuity, and clergy sexual abuse.

While most of the media coverage surrounds the controversial treatment of life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships (about which the statement affirms a wide range of differences of conviction among members of the church), most of the statement addresses in bold language many issues about which Lutherans agree, including the primary role of marriage in providing the “necessary social support and social trust for relationships,” and “a context of love, trust, honesty, and commitment within which a couple can express the profound joy of relationship as well as address the troubles they encounter throughout life.” (“Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” page 9)

With this statement, the ELCA continues a long-held Lutheran tradition of holding marriage in high esteem, expressing deep sorrow at the prevalence of divorce, and the desire to urge couples “cohabitating” (living together) outside of marriage to seek the public accountability and commitment that comes with marriage. In a culture in which divorce rates hover around 50%, this statement seeks to speak a strong word against this trend and strives to reduce the number of marriages that end in divorce.

Discussion Questions

[Be attentive, sensitive, and respectful of the many family and life experiences that youth in the group may have experienced or are in the midst of working through.]

  1. How many of the youth in your church come from families that have experienced divorce? How many of your friends at school have dealt with divorce in their families? How do you feel about those numbers?
  2. Why do you think so many marriages end in divorce? What happens in families when divorce occurs?
  3. How can the church help reduce the number of marriages that experience divorce? If you decide to get married someday, how do you want the church to help you stay married?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, October 4, 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

This is one of the hardest teachings of Jesus. Especially when so many of our families have experienced divorce, it is hard to hear Jesus condemning divorce and remarriage in such clear and direct terms. On the surface, it seems that Jesus is saying that divorce is never appropriate — or, at the very least, remarriage is adultery — because it pulls apart a union that God joined together. Ask any pastor, and she or he will probably tell you that this is one of the Sundays when they would prefer to be on vacation!

As always, it is important to understand the culture in which Jesus lived in order to understand what Jesus is teaching. In the laws of Jesus’ religious community, divorce was relatively easy to accomplish — if you were a man. Men could dismiss their wives for virtually any reason, including simple jealousy. In that day, adult women who were unmarried, whether by being widowed or divorced — were very vulnerable. They had limited social status and few options. Many ended up poor and destitute, relying on begging or other undesirable means to get enough food to survive.

It is in this culture that Jesus chooses to “tighten” the commandments about marriage. In a world where women could be left destitute by the whim of a male-initiated divorce, Jesus condemns divorce and commands men and women to stay married, or else fall into the sin of adultery. This is hard to hear, especially for families who have experienced divorce, but in the interest of protecting against vulnerability and poverty for a growing number of women, Jesus’ commandment can be heard as good news.

It is interesting that Mark chose to connect this teaching about divorce to the next section, where Jesus blesses the children. Children were also considered vulnerable members of society; some scholars even call them the most “unimportant” members of culture until they were old enough to ensure the future of the family name and fortune. Could it be that Mark is connecting these teachings to make a point? Jesus, in changing the rules about divorce and remarriage, is doing something similar to what he does when he blesses children: He is providing for the safety, honor, and livelihood of the most vulnerable members of society.

The ELCA Social Statement on Human Sexuality makes this connection as well. “Lutherans understand that intimacy, trust, and safety, particularly for the most vulnerable, are best sheltered within families” (page 12). This is why this church does not favor cohabitation outside of marriage — because without commitment, couples can create situations where people, especially children, can be left more vulnerable and unprotected outside of the public accountability that comes with marriage. Examples of public accountability could include things such as child support and visitation, fair division of property and money, access to public assistance and resources, etc. [It’s not forgotten that a marriage, wedding, or public commitment does not guarantee a perfect relationship or some sort of special insurance against abuse, injustice, conflict, or vulnerability.]

It seems that in this teaching, Jesus is affirming the commitment of the church to care for and encourage strong families and healthy relationships in order to protect the most vulnerable and to provide a place where love and trust can flourish.

Although this church understands that there are many legitimate reasons for marriages to end in divorce — precisely because some marriages are so marked with sin and abuse that people are made more vulnerable by staying in them than by getting a divorce — we stand with Jesus in affirming the gift and promise of marriage, as well as the good news that God desires to care for, bless, and support the most vulnerable among us, especially children.

Discussion Questions

  1. How is family a blessing to you in your life? How is being a part of a family difficult? In your own experience, how do you define or describe family? (Intergenerational, single parent, step siblings or parents, grandparents, extended family members, friends who are considered family, living under one roof, sp[reads across many miles or between several households, etc.)
  2. What are some reasons people give for getting a divorce? Which reasons make sense to you? Which don’t?
  3. If Jesus were around today, what do you think he would say about the reasons people give for getting a divorce? How would he “bless the children” in the context of a culture with such a high divorce rate?

Activity Suggestions

Plan a wedding

Spend some time thinking about what you would want to do for a marriage celebration, should you choose to get married. Have fun planning a reception, a guest list, a first dance, etc., but also spend time thinking about the ceremony itself.

  • When will you know it’s a good time to get married?
  • What experiences or rituals do feel are important for you to have as part of the ceremony?
  • What vows would you like to say to the person you are marrying?
  • What readings would you pick?
  • Who would you want to be involved?

If you don’t believe you are going to get married, talk about why not.

  • How would you want to be a part of other people’s families?
  • How could you help raise children and support the gift of family?
  • How will you support and encourage the relationships of your friends?
  • What other kinds of family and community will you be a part of in your adult life?

[You may want to have some wedding magazines available, although be prepared to talk about some of the more troubling commercial aspects of the wedding business. You’ll probably want to have copies of the marriage service in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 286]


Look through the Social Statement on Human Sexuality together
Also check out:

This will require preparation on the part of the leaders, but could yield a very interesting conversation. Ask questions like:

  • What do you see here? What don’t you see?
  • What do you agree with? What do you disagree with?  (FAQs on Bound Conscience)
  • What is confusing?
  • What are you thankful for that is being talked about in public as a church?
  • Do you think it’s important for Christians to talk together about sex? Why or why not?
  • What other aspects of human sexuality and relationships do we need to be talking about (in your opinion)?

Be prepared for a lively, respectful conversation, especially if you use the youth Web site resource.

Closing Prayer

Good and gracious God, thank you for the gifts of family, love, trust, and mercy. Help us to strengthen and honor the families you have given us. Forgive us and our family members when we break promises and hurt each other. Give us your grace and mercy, always. Amen.

February 18-25, 2009 – Mom’s singing wins career makeover contest

Contributed by Steven Alloway
Granada Hills, CA

Warm-up Question: Have you ever made any major changes to your appearance, or your lifestyle? What changes did you make? Why did you do it? How did the people around you react?
 After losing her job in 2007, Nicole Nagy decided to go back to school and become a nurse. But times are tough and her family was behind on their mortgage, so finding the money to pay for tuition seemed unlikely. But Nicole found the solution in an odd place — a contest called Careereoki. The contest invites people to make a video singing about their intended careers, in order to win a “career makeover” that includes a scholarship, résumé help, and a $100 gas card. Nagi appears in the video with her husband and three children, wearing a nurse’s uniform and singing, “A Bad Case of Nursing Blues.”

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

Gospel Reflection


This was an important event in Jesus ministry. He had been known as a teacher, healer, and prophet, but now he reveals himself as something more. There he is, sitting with two of the greatest prophets in history, his face shining with the glory of heaven. Surely, this is the Son of God.
But why did he do it? Most of Jesus’ other signs and miracles were to help others: feeding them, healing them, things like that. But now, he takes just three disciples with him to a secluded place, shows them all of his heavenly glory, and then warns them not to tell anyone. Why would Jesus do that?

First, we must keep in mind that Jesus did not perform signs and miracles for himself or fame. He was twice tempted by the devil to do so, by turning stones into bread and by jumping off the temple roof, and he adamantly refused. And his miracles were not just for the physical benefit of the people he healed. They were for the spiritual benefit of the people who witnessed the miracles, and ultimately, of us, as believers.

So Jesus was transfigured (changed in form and appearance) physically, so that Peter, James, and John could be transfigured spiritually. They saw Jesus in all of his glory so that they themselves could be filled with the Spirit, and ultimately be encouraged and energized as witnesses in the world. But then again, if that’s true, then why did he tell them not to say anything yet? Because it wasn’t time. The world wasn’t yet ready to know of Christ in all of his glory. Even the disciples weren’t quite ready.

When Peter saw Jesus, talking with Moses and Elijah, he wanted to set up booths or tents for them, places for them to stay, for a night, for a week, or for as long as they could. Peter wanted to camp out and remain in this one glorious moment. Perhaps he wanted to stay there and learn from these prophets of ages past. Perhaps he wanted to bring the other disciples to see Jesus in all his glory. But whatever he wanted, it wasn’t what God had in mind. The purpose of the transfiguration wasn’t so they could remain on the mountain, but so that they could go out into the world, filled with the Spirit through what they had seen.

If Peter, one of Jesus’ closest companions, had this reaction to Jesus’ transfiguration, how would the other disciples and the rest of the world react when they heard about it? They’d all want to see it for themselves, and maybe even keep it to themselves. They’d crowd around and yell for Jesus to bring Moses and Elijah in for a panel discussion. They’d try to make him their ruler, and beg him to set up a kingdom here on Earth, as they often did.

But it wasn’t time for Jesus’ full glory to be displayed to the world. First he had to be humbled, to suffer and die on a cross for our sins, and then his full glory would be revealed through his resurrection and ascension. Then he charged his disciples with spreading the news of his glory to all the nations of the world. With this new responsibility and job, Peter, James, and John were equipped with an amazing story of their experience with Jesus on the mountain, in all of his heavenly glory for the sake of the world. For what purpose? So that we all might be transfigured and changed by God’s love for us through Jesus Christ.

Discussion Questions


  • Which of Jesus’ signs and miracles would you say you’ve been most changed by?
    Which one speaks to you the most, personally and spiritually? Why?
  • If someone showed you something incredible, then warned you not to tell anyone about it, do you think you could keep your mouth shut? Or would you spread the news to everyone? Who would you tell, email, call, or text first?
  • Why do you think Jesus chose three specific disciples — Peter, James, and John — out of all the others to witness his transfiguration? How do you think they were transformed or given a “makeover” by witnessing it?
  • How is Nicole Nagy’s “Career Makeover” for her vocation of nursing like our transformation as children of God for our vocation of spreading the gospel to those around us? How are they different? 

Activity Suggestion

  •  Find some of the other places in the gospels wherein Jesus charges people not to tell anyone about the miracle he’s just performed. Do they tell? Why does Jesus warn them not to in each instance?
  • Make your own video or skit about Jesus’ Transfiguration, and the reactions of the disciples, both at the time, and after Jesus’ resurrection. Include a song or two if you want.

Closing Prayer

 Lord Jesus Christ, transform me. Fill me with your Spirit and guide me, so that I can do the things you ask of me: to serve you and all people, and to spread your word of love, forgiveness, hope, and new life. Amen.

The top five finalists were chosen by a panel of judges who based their decision on originality, creativity, and humor. Then the winner was selected by the listeners of a local radio station, who voted for their favorite video on the station’s website.

“It was a way to connect to job seekers,” said Kimberly Cornett, Vice President of Workforce Central Florida, who helped sponsor the event. “And also for job seekers to take a little break from the stress of unemployment.”

Discussion Questions

  • Would you videotape yourself singing and dancing in order to get into the career you wanted or get a promotion? What would you sing?
  • Do you think the contest is a good idea? How do you think it will help more people find jobs? What are the downsides?
  • If you had the means, how would you help people who have lost their jobs and are looking for a new career? What would you do for them? What would you ask them to do?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, March 1, 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.)