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April 8-15, 2009 – Obamania: The European tour part II

Contributed by Jocelyn Breeland
Fairfax, VA

Warm-up Question: If you could be a groupie, which celebrity would you follow?

President Barack Obama’s recent trip to Europe, the first of his presidency, created a public frenzy that recalled his visit to Europe during the 2008 presidential campaign.

True, there was a lot of real work to be done this time, at the G-20 summit and in meetings with British, Russian, and other heads of state. Pundits (an expert, commentator, or opinion-leader) are divided over the value of what was accomplished. Most agree that the tone of the gatherings was more productive than would have been possible during the Bush administration.

Based on the news reports, Americans could be forgiven for thinking the trip was more a tour by American royalty than an opportunity for serious work on the critical issues of our time.

The screaming crowds that greeted Mr. Obama and his wife at many stops provided plenty of “distraction” for the news media. Reporters seemed transfixed by the first couple’s every move, especially Mrs. Obama. Breathlessly, they reported that she touched the queen! That she wore a sweater to Buckingham Palace! That she got emotional while speaking with a group of adoring school girls!

Of course, some maintain that, despite the conspicuous display of admiration, not much of importance has changed in the relationship between the U.S. and its European partners. Yes, there were adoring crowds, but there were also large violent protests.

Discussion Questions

  • Should European public opinion matter to Americans?
  • What is it about President Obama that inspires such adoration?
  • Are those who put President Obama on a pedestal setting themselves up for inevitable disappointment?
  • What are your impressions of President Obama and his wife? How do your impressions shape your expectations of President Obama’s leadership?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 12, 2009 (Easter Sunday).

(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’ followers were frightened and confused by his death. They’d served with him for three years, so the confusion didn’t result from not knowing Christ well enough, but from not yet comprehending the way he had transformed their lives. On Easter morning, Jesus gave the disciples the key to understanding what the prophets of the Old Testament had foretold, and what he had been trying to explain throughout his ministry.

The story is simple; its meaning is earth-shattering. The tomb is empty because Jesus, once dead but now alive, has left. Skeptics said someone must have moved the body. But the miraculous resurrection isn’t the only (or even the most important) headline of this tale.

The amazing story that God begins to reveal on Easter morning is what Jesus’ victory over death means to each of us. It’s as if he gave us a beautifully wrapped present at Christmas, and at Easter we get to open it and see what’s inside. Later, as we grow in faith we, like the disciples will understand and appreciate this gift more and more.

Because God sacrificed his son for us, we have the assurance of eternal life. We can be sure that our creator, who can bring life from death, can protect and reclaim us no matter how dire our situation. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, our sins are forgiven. With this certainty, we can boldly do whatever God calls us to do.

On Easter morning, the disciples were grieving and fearful. But we, who know the rest of the story, truly the greatest story ever told, can joyfully express our thanks to God for this gift. Alleluia! He is risen!

Discussion Questions

  • What in today’s Gospel makes the greatest impression on you?
  • Mark 16:8 says the women said nothing about what they saw, because they were afraid. What of?
  • If the disciples had fully understood what happened Easter morning, how do you think they would have reacted?
  • How is your relationship with Jesus different from that of a celebrity groupie?

Activity Suggestion

Jesus Christ, the rock star, is going on. Create the official tour t-shirt. What words or images would appeal to Christians? What would draw the attention and appeal to non-believers?

Closing Prayer

Almighty God, this week we are celebrating your greatest gift to us — the life and sacrifice of your son Jesus. Words alone cannot express our intense gratitude. But in our songs, in our prayers, and in the way we care for each other and the world, we praise you, and glorify you. Thank you for continuing to walk with us everyday. When we’re in trouble, comfort us with the assurance of your love, and the promise of life everlasting. In the name of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns, now and forever. Amen.

February 4-11, 2009 – Obama urges community service

Warm-up Question: What would you do the day before becoming president?

One day before his inauguration, then president-elect Obama was spotted painting a wall of a homeless shelter. He also visited a medical center that treats wounded U.S. soldiers and a high school where students volunteered in different ways.

Of course, Obama’s actions that day were not a private matter of goodwill but part of an effort to shape the tone of his new presidency. Obama said in one of the many interviews he gave that day: “I ask the American people to turn today’s efforts into an ongoing commitment to enriching the lives of others in their communities, their cities, and their country.”

Whenever a new president comes into office, the nation experiences a push of hope. Suddenly, the future seems brighter and people assume that things will be better this time around. But can a single man really change an entire country? Obama’s call to volunteer was followed all over the United States this year and was covered by the international media. Now, it is up to his administration and, last but not least, to the stamina of the American people whether this movement of volunteerism can be sustained. The new president has high hopes. He urges the doubters to not “underestimate the power for people to pull together and to accomplish amazing things.”

Discussion Questions

  • What, do you think, is the ideal way to spend the day before becoming president?
  • Did you volunteer on Martin Luther King’s day this year?
  • What have your experiences been in volunteer service?
  • Do you think that volunteering for a few hours at a single place such as a soup kitchen or day care center can really change lives? How?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, February 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

Just two verses, 27 words, in the Greek original text of the New Testament, and 42 words in the English of the NRSV translation … This is probably the shortest miracle story in the Gospels!

A woman is in a house. She is bed-ridden because of a fever. Jesus is called to her. He heals her and she immediately goes about her business. This story is placed at the beginning stages of Mark’s recounting of Jesus’ public ministry, but it is not the first healing and not the first miracle that Jesus performs. Just before, he healed a man at a synagogue. And right after, Jesus is overrun by the sick and the possessed of the town including their relatives that bring them to him and ask for his help. It is as if Jesus circle of influence widens at this point. Only a few people witnessed the healing at the synagogue and this miracle in a private residence, but the news about Jesus and his amazing powers spread immediately.

The miracle itself is done in the simplest way. Jesus does not do anything special, he does not pray or say anything. He just takes the woman’s hand and helps her up, a sequence of events that Mark’s readers will encounter again in Mark 5:41 and 9:27.

What is unique about this healing is that Jesus here performs a miracle for the benefit of somebody within his closest circle of friends. It is the mother-in-law of his first disciple, Simon Peter, the “rock” upon which he will build his church (Matthew 16:18).

What is the result of this healing miracle? The Gospel writers usually add a note that, after being healed by Jesus, the person in question is actually able to walk, stand, see, or whatever else he or she was previously not able to do. Simon’s mother-in-law does more than simply get up or stand on her own, or get rid of a fever. She is healed, gets up, and begins to serve Jesus and his followers. Of course, being good hosts is what women were supposed to do when guests entered the house. Yet, her “serving” is something special.

The Greek verb “diakoneo,” from which the term “deacon” comes, is only used a few times in the New Testament. Aside from Simon’s mother-in-law, it is applied to a few special women such as Martha (John 12:2), the righteous (Matthew 25:44), Paul’s disciple Onesiphorus (1 Timothy 1:18), and the angels (Matthew 4:11, Mark 1:13). What these special servants have in common is that they all serve Jesus: the angels wait on him after he has rejected Satan, Martha and the other women provide for him and his disciples, Onesiphorus proclaims his word. Doing “diakoneo” work is thus human and angelic business, providing for Jesus when he still walked on earth and making sure that his message is spread throughout history in every place.

Discussion Questions

  • The term “servant” can refer to a person who does demeaning work or to somebody who needs to be praised for his or her willingness to put one’s own needs below the needs of others. Do you think that this expression is still a good description for somebody who works in the church or does acts of Christian charity or compassion? How do you understand the term today?
  • Where does your church do “service” in the way the verb “diakoneo” is used in this passage? Where do you?
  • Some scholars who studied the Gospel of Mark claimed that the disciples mention the woman’s illness to Jesus in order to apologize for the fact that Simon’s house is not inviting and that no feast is prepared. Do you think that the woman falls into the typical patterns of female behavior when she gets up from her sick-bed and immediately takes care of others? What do you think would be your first actions if you had been healed by Jesus?

Activity Suggestions

1. There is a pattern!
Healing stories in the Gospels often follow a certain pattern: 1) the miracle worker arrives, 2) the situation of the sick person is described, 3) the healing is performed, and 4) there is some kind of proof that the person was actually healed.

Find other healing stories in the Gospel of Mark and check which ones fit that pattern and which ones might deviate from it. For this activity, it would be helpful to provide a table with 5 columns and several rows. The 4 steps appear in the top row, columns 2-5. Students can then add the stories they found in the first column and fill in the details of each story in columns 2-5.

2. Deacons are …
Have your students read the stories mentioned above that use the Greek verb “diakoneo” and write a list of characteristics that identify someone as a “deacon” of that kind. Discuss what a modern person would have to do in order to be such a deacon and whether your students can imagine becoming such a person.

3. Divine Valentine
Have paper, scissors, ribbons, scrapbook materials, glue, and anything else available with which your students can make their own Valentine’s Day cards. Invite them to make “Divine Valentines,” cards that tell somebody that they are loved by God (this is one of the aspects of being a deacon, spreading the word about Jesus and God’s love!).

As they make their cards, talk with them about people who need to hear that God loves them. Either, leave it up to them who should receive their card or arrange for a special follow-up project where you take these cards to a group home, nursing home, shelter, or another place in your neighborhood where this message is needed. You can also leave it up to them whether they want to write a scripture verse inside (provide a few about God’s love) or whether they would like to add a personal note.

Closing Prayer

You are truly amazing, Lord:
You provide for us and guide our lives.
You give us friends and families that care for us and that we might care for.
But most amazing is that in your death and resurrection you became a servant for us. You died so that we may live.
Grant, that we can become your servants in turn:
That we can do your work on earth.
That we can proclaim your word.
And that we can spread the news of your love to people that have never heard it or experienced it. Amen.

Contributed by Pastor Claudia Bergmann
Eisleben, Germany

January 28-February 4, 2009 – Drum major suspended for looking at President Obama

Warm-up Question: Share a rule you have to follow at school, home, sports team, or perhaps even at church that you feel is not fair. Why do you obey?

An Ohio man acting as the drum major for a band in the presidential inaugural parade nodded and gestured to President Barack Obama and was suspended from the band for his actions. The leaders of the Firefighters Memorial Pipes and Drums stressed to the whole band that they were participating as a military procession and all decorum would be required. The band leaders stressed not to look at or gesture to the president. During the parade, the drum major made eye contact with the president who smiled then waved at the major, and the drum major gave a wave in return.

As a result of the suspension, the drum major has resigned his place in the band saying that the glow of being in the parade has worn off and that he no longer wished to be in the band. The band has received criticism for their decision but has not wavered despite critical e-mails and phone calls.

Discussion Questions

  • Share whether you think the decision to suspend the drum major was fair. What can you say about both sides of the argument.
  • If this was you and you knew you were not supposed to look at the president, but he was walking right by the platform, what do you think you would do?
  • Why do you think the rule was there to begin with? What reasons might you give to hold to this rule rigorously?
  • When do you think it is OK to break a rule?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, February 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.)

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

Gospel Reflection

In the text in 1 Corinthians, the question is whether it is OK to eat food set aside for idols. What would happen is that an animal would be sacrificed to an idol. The animal would then be butchered for meat and sold. According to Jewish law, this food would not be kosher and therefore would not be food that a Jewish person could eat. But what happens when the rules change? What happens when following the law no longer defines you but something else all together? What happens when Jesus comes and changes everything?

Paul explains that the food has no intrinsic value, and is neither good nor bad — it is just food. They are free to eat whatever they wish and no law defines them. So you would think Paul is saying, “Go ahead and eat!” But this isn’t the case. He realizes that others who are hearing the good news and are Jewish may be put off by the apparent disobeying of a law by Christians that others may think of as very important. Just because they are free from this rule and it has no place in the new covenant in Jesus, he asks the church to follow the rule so that it does not become a stumbling block to others. In other words, the rule is silly and they don’t need to follow it, but they gotta so people won’t freak out and not listen to them anymore. It may seem silly that the drum major can’t make eye contact with the President of the United States, but for the whole group this was the rule and it needed to be followed by all.

As Christians, we know a freedom of living. We are free from the old rules and laws and trying to achieve perfection so that God will love us. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the divide between humanity and the Lord is torn down and we are fully loved. This means we are free. Luther would say we are “Lord of all, slave to none.”

But this same freedom is not something that we take lightly. It comes with a message and way of living that reflects what it means to be free. Yes, God will love us even when we make mistakes. God will love us even if we make poor choices. These actions will not change God. We are free from any laws or rules that are meant to move or force us into relationship with God. But, if we ignore all the rules, we may forget that the world is watching us and we are communicating something important by our actions, words, and lives. They are looking for God and we need to reflect the goodness of God. Even though we are free from the law, we are still called to obey the law for the sake of the world.

Here’s another way to look at it: Imagine your parents or guardians have promised you a new car and purchased it for you. They have said that no matter what, they will always buy you a car and will take care of it, no matter what. Does this mean you drive it recklessly? Would you purposely drive your car into a tree just because you know your parents will buy you a new one? Do you take a milkshake and pour it on the floor just because your parents will fix it and clean it? No, you still follow some rules. You care for your life and do what you can to show your parents that you are thankful for their gift. You take care of the car as your way of saying “Thanks for the car!” How you drive is an expression of how you feel about your parents. And in all of this, others are watching too. They will know how you feel about them by how you drive!

How much more should you take care of your life? How you live expresses how you feel about God and your thankfulness for what God has done. Yes, the rules will not change how much God loves you, but we follow them as our way of saying thank you and as a way of showing our love and respect for God.

Discussion Questions

  • What rules does your church have about the building or grounds? (e.g., no drinks in the sanctuary, no running around the altar, pick up after yourself, etc.) What are the reasons for some of these rules?
  • What are some rules you have for yourself? (e.g., be kind to friends, listen when one is talking, return things I borrow, etc.) What are the reasons for these rules?
  • What are some rules you think God may have for you? (e.g., praying daily, caring for our bodies by not turning them over to worldly things, worshiping, etc.) What are the reasons for these rules? Why would God want these things from us, even if they don’t change God?

Activity Suggestion

Throwing it Away

Bring a bag of candies or a snack to church with you; something in wrappers like Hershey Kisses, Reese’s Cups, or snack chips. Before the class, set up with one student that when you give out the candies and promise them another if they ask, he or she will find ridiculous things to do with the candies like throw them away without unwrapping them, tossing them behind bookcases, stepping on them, or any other creative way to “waste” the snack. Before class, give each student some candy and promise them another piece if they ask. During the class and discussion, the student should be asking for more of the candy or snack and then obviously doing silly things with it. Be careful this does not go overboard to the point of distracting from the rest of class or causing chaos. Let it happen, then both student and leader should move on to the discussion.

  • Discuss with the class how it felt to see the student waste the free gift of candy. Did it seem right? How should he have behaved?
  • Since he or she received a free piece of candy no matter what, why would it matter what they did with the other pieces?
  • What opinion do the other students conclude about the student wasting things?
  • What does his or her behavior say about the person and how they feel about the teacher?
  • Compare this to life and the decisions we make. If we are forgiven anyway, why do we need to respect, follow the rules, and live a life worthy and pleasing? What does our behavior say about how we feel about God?

Closing Prayer

God, there is nothing we could do to make you love us any more and there is nothing we could do to make you love us any less. With such a gift, how can we not praise and thank you! Give us courage to live lives pleasing to you, not to make you love us but because you already do. Help us to live everyday as a thank you for your gift of life. Amen.

Contributed by Jay Gamelin, pastor of Jacob’s Porch, the Lutheran Campus Mission to The Ohio State University, OH