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March 25-April 1, 2009 – Americans less willing to sacrifice, Supreme Court Justice Thomas Says

Contributed by Jennifer Krausz
Bethlehem, PA

Warm-up Question: Who has ever sacrificed something for you? What was it? How did you feel about it?

When Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was growing up, he says he constantly heard messages like “Learn to do without,” “Prepare for a rainy day,” and “No one owes you a living.” In a speech given at Washington and Lee University, Thomas told an audience of nearly 400 that “those truths permeated our lives.” When John F. Kennedy urged Americans to serve their country rather than look to be served, he said, “It all made sense.”

Justice Thomas contrasted the messages of his boyhood with the attitudes of today. “These days, there seems to be little emphasis on responsibility, sacrifice and self-denial,” Thomas said. “Rarely do we hear a message of sacrifice, unless it is used as a justification of taxation of others or a transfer of wealth to others.”

In his speech, Thomas blamed the “me” generation of the 1960s for the shift from service and sacrifice to selfishness and self-indulgence. “Today the message seems to be, ‘Ask not what you can do for yourselves and your country, but what your country can do for you,’” Thomas said.

Thomas made the rare public appearance at the request of student Robin Wright, a senior from Little Rock, Arkansas, whose mother is a federal judge. Although he did not mention any political party or specific politician by name, he did make it clear that he thinks people are too quick to look to the government for help when hard times come. “Our country and our principles are more important than our individual wants,” he said.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you identify more with the messages Clarence Thomas grew up with or the messages he says exist today?
  • What do you think is the most common attitude of society today? Do you think most people expect the government to help them? Do you see differences between the attitudes of youth and adults? How would you describe them?
  • If you think Justice Thomas is right, why do you think people might be more reluctant to sacrifice or deny themselves things today than in past generations?
  • What do you think is a good reason to sacrifice something? Are there any bad reasons? If so, what are they?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, March 29, 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’ sacrifice involved agony that not many human beings have ever experienced. The biblical accounts of the crucifixion are sometimes so matter-of-fact that we can pass right over the ripped flesh that resulted from beatings and whippings, the nails hammered through his hands and feet, the sharp thorns cutting his head, and the many other humiliations he suffered. We can’t think that Jesus, being God, was above it all and just doing it for shown and theatrics. The Bible makes it clear that Jesus felt all the pain any of us would feel if we were tortured and humiliated. He was completely human just as he was completely divine — the Son of God.

Jesus knew ahead of time what it would be like, and his soul was troubled (v. 27). Still, he chose to sacrifice his life for the sins of each one of us. Hopefully, we never get to the point where we’re so familiar the stories of Jesus’ sacrifice that they don’t seem like such a big deal. His death on the cross made possible our being welcomed into eternal life with God. The alternative was for all humanity to suffer for eternity the consequences of sin, failures, and weaknesses. (v. 25)

In these verses, Jesus calls his followers to follow him, even in sacrifice. He asks us not to love our lives so much that we can’t bear to lose them, and to serve him and our neighbors. If we follow Jesus and seek guidance from him, he will lead us through the sacrifices that we will face throughout life. And when he does, we will be blessed.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever made a sacrifice for someone else, a cause, or special reason? How did you feel about doing so? Would you do it again if you were faced with the same situation?
  • You must have heard a story at some point about a person (other than Jesus) who sacrificed much, maybe even their life, for someone else. Share one of those stories with the group. What did you think of the person who sacrificed? What motivated their sacrifice? What did it accomplish or influence?
  • In what ways do you think a lifestyle of sacrifice might make the world a better place? How would you describe the life and actions Jesus modeled for us and asks us to follow?
  • Can you think of any drawbacks to sacrificing? How does God gives us the courage, wisdom, ability to take risks, resources, and comfort to live lives or service and sacrifice? What other things might we ask of God to help us make sacrifices for others?

Activity Suggestions

Identify people or groups who have sacrificed something for you personally. (Some obvious ones might include parents or grandparents, people serving in the military, emergency first-responders, a trusted friend, a brother or sister, etc.)

Write a short and sincere note of gratitude to one person who has sacrificed for your benefit. (Leaders, if your budgets permit, provide blank notecards or stationery, envelopes, and stamps for students. Make sure the notes get sent.)


Gather the following supplies: Posterboard or newsprint, magazines for cutting, colorful markers. On a large posterboard or piece of newsprint, make a collage of pictures or have students write and draw pictures of people who have sacrificed for them over the course of their lives.

Closing Prayer 

Jesus, we thank you for your sacrifice for us on the cross. Help us to be willing to follow you in making sacrifices for those in need around us; guide us in those efforts. We also thank you for your example and the presence of the Spirit that has led people to sacrifice for us as well. Thank you for the blessings of your presence and for the eternal life with God that we have because of your undeserved love and sacrifice. Amen.