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Faith Lens

January 6, 2013–Keeping the Faith On the Journey

Contributed by Jen Krausz, Bethlehem, PA


Warm-up Question

Do you think a Christian counselor can successfully counsel someone of another faith? Why or why not?

Keeping the Faith On the Journey

Bentley, a British automaker, fired its Christian chaplain of ten years just days before Christmas because they felt he might make workers of other faiths uncomfortable. Reverend Francis Cooke had visited the Crewe, Chester factory once a week for ten years before he was fired.

None of the workers ever complained about Cooke and, in fact, have started a petition to bring him back to the factory. Retired employee John Austin, 67, said, “He was there for a lot of people. I know one individual who was feeling suicidal, but Francis turned him around. He was a very important man at the factory.”

Cooke offered counseling services to workers of all faiths, not just Christians. He was employed by Bentley; it was his only paid work. “My position is to help people and not just those who are Christians,” Cooke said in an interview. “’It is not just about offering religious services. I provide counseling to workers who have stresses at home such as broken marriages. I would spend a few minutes with each person which would be enough to help them feel better.”

“Everyone is really angry about it,” one worker said to a British newspaper. “To do this just before Christmas is shocking.”

A Bentley spokesperson stated, “We have a wide range of faiths and want to take a multi-faith outlook. It would be very difficult to have somebody from each faith.”


Discussion Questions

  • Do you think it was right for Bentley to fire Rev. Cooke? Why or why not?
  • Can you think of a better way to resolve the problem while allowing Rev. Cooke to keep his job?
  • How should a chaplain treat someone of a different faith?
  • Should Bentley reinstate Rev. Cooke if most or all of their employees want him back?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, January 6, 2013 (Epiphany of our Lord)

Isaiah 60:1-6

Ephesians 3:1-12

Matthew 2:1-12

(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 you have grown up attending church, you probably take the story of Jesus’ birth for granted. You are very familiar with the journey to Bethlehem, the birth in a manger, the shepherds being notified by angels, and the wise men coming to give expensive gifts to the baby. In reality many improbable events surround the birth of Jesus. The wise men of this part of the gospel account came from nations that persecuted the Jews for centuries, yet they had enough faith in the star they saw to follow it for at least a year. They were obviously familiar with the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus, even though they did not belong to the same culture or belief system.

Why did they want to see the baby king? A commentary suggests that it was because they saw his birth as the beginning of a new age of peace between their nations and the Israelites.  The wise men wanted to give gifts to the new king, but they accidentally let Herod know about the birth of one who (he thought) could put him out of a job. Understandably, Herod was threatened.

In spite of the threat their questions created for baby Jesus, the Wise Men were also the ones through whom God worked to save Jesus from that threat. Once they offered their gifts and worship, they disobeyed orders and avoided Herod so they wouldn’t have to tell him where they had found their king.

This account shows that God can work in the lives of people with any amount of faith and understanding. Indeed, we may have very little understanding of God’s purposes, but God uses those who are willing to follow to accomplish those purposes.

May you look back on the story of your life and find that God has used you mightily in accomplishing great things in the world, even though you might not have understood it fully at the time.

Discussion Questions

  •  So much violence is the result of misunderstandings between people. What misunderstandings led to Herod wanting to kill the baby Jesus?
  • Those in charge of the Bentley factory may have something in common with Herod in that they feel threatened by the presence Christ in their factory (working through Rev. Cooke). How is that a misunderstanding? Is there any way to resolve such a misunderstanding? If so, how?
  • Can you look back and see a time when God worked in your life or in someone else’s? How does that make you feel to realize it now? How did it feel when you were going through it?
  • Do you think it’s better to keep God out of workplaces and schools? Why or why not? Is that really even possible; what do people mean when they talk about “keeping God out of schools…or workplaces”?
  •  One reader of a news article about Rev. Cooke’s firing stated that in England, “multi-faith outlook usually means no Christians.” Why do you think people would omit Christianity, the faith with the largest amount of followers?

Activity Suggestions

Write a brief letter to the editor stating your opinion about Rev. Cooke’s firing. Send or email it to your local newspaper or to a British newspaper that has covered the story (google can give some of those).

Closing Prayer

Lord God, thank you for being a God who enters our lives personally, first through Jesus, and even now through the Holy Spirit. Help us to understand other faiths well enough to bridge chasms, continuing to show your love in all situations. And show us the ways in which you are working in our lives every day. We praise you and thank you in Jesus’ name, Amen.