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Faith Lens

February 24, 2013–Daring Danger

Contributed by Erik Ulstead, West Des Moines, IA


Warm-up Question

What’s the most heroic thing you’ve seen someone do?

Daring Danger

shutterstock_90565891editFirefighters are often called into dangerous circumstances.  Typically, they are asked to rescue people from burning buildings and fiery explosions.  Earlier this month, local firefighters in Kokomo, Indiana found themselves trying to extract a dog from a partially frozen creek.

Like most dogs, Chancellor (or Chance, for short) loved to chase squirrels.  “He’ll chase anything with fur or feathers, but he always comes back,” remarked owner Jimmy Prestler.  Chance pursued the squirrel to a nearby park and onto a patch of ice.  “I’m guessing the squirrel made it across the creek, but the dog didn’t,” said Dave King, battalion chief with the fire department.  A person driving through the park saw the dog fall through the ice and stopped to help, but he was unable to save Chance and called the fire department.

Firefighter Derek Pounds was given the chilly task of rescuing Chance.  After a few minutes Pounds was able to slide across the creek pull the dog out of the water, with the aid of a cold-water rescue suit and an ice sled.  Chance was shaking violently and had icicles frozen to his face.  Pounds wrapped him in a blanket to warm and dry the dog.  King said the dog likely would have died if he’d been in the creek much longer.  “It’s lucky someone saw what happened and called,” he said. “Had he not seen him, the dog would have frozen to death.”

Prestler expressed gratitude to everyone involved in the rescue.  “I think I would have to get therapy if he didn’t survive,” Prestler said.  “Whenever I come home, it’s like seeing my brother after five years.  Chance just goes nuts every time.  They not only saved his life, they saved mine, too.”


Discussion Questions

  • When have you seen public servants (firefighters, police officers, road construction workers, etc.) in action?
  • What do you think about the owner’s comments about his dog?
  • Have you ever been asked to help someone in need? How did you respond?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, February 24, 2013 (Second Sunday of Lent)


Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

Philippians 3:17-4:1

Luke 13:31-35

(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

There’s a lot going on in these few verses in Luke 13.  Jesus had just wrapped up a teaching and healing spree in various communities outside of Jerusalem.  With each stop along the way, the crowds grew larger.  Everyone wanted to see this Jesus they had heard so much about.  However, not everyone was a fan of Jesus.

Herod, the ruler of that region, recently beheaded John the Baptist, Jesus’ friend and mentor.  Many Pharisees (the nice ones, not the mean ones) were concerned that Herod would come after Jesus next.  They told Jesus to leave Jerusalem and go into hiding.  However, Jesus was defiant, insisting that the work of casting out demons and performing cures was too important for him to hide.

He also pauses for a moment to express his dismay for the whole city of Jerusalem.  Jesus is sad for the way Jerusalem has treated the people God has sent there as prophets and ministers.  Furthermore, he knows that he will suffer a similar fate when he returns (for what we now know as Palm Sunday).

We learn a lot about Jesus in this passage.  First, it’s clear that Jesus is one who protects and heals people who are sick or broken.  Second, we see that Jesus is committed to complete the tasks to which he was called.  Finally, we discover that, regardless of their past, Jesus still has concern for the well-being of the entire community.  Through all of this, Jesus reveals that God has a heart for particular places and times.  God cares about your town…your school…your family…your church.  Like a mother hen covering her chicks, or a firefighter rescuing a dog,  Jesus seeks to protect us – and calls us to shelter others in need.

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think the Pharisees are warning Jesus about Herod’s plot?
  • Did Jesus make the right choice to stay in Jerusalem?
  • Who are some people God is calling you to protect and care for this week?

Activity Suggestions

  • Grab some craft sticks and glue.  Attempt to build a building that can’t be knocked over by someone blowing on it.  Talk about how different structures are used to protect people from bad weather or evil people.
  • Contact a local animal shelter.  Offer to bring your group to learn about the work they do.  Consider volunteering some time to care for animals or do repairs around their facility.

Closing Prayer

God, we thank you for sending your Son to care for us.  May we provide comfort, hope, and peace to the people we encounter this week.  In Jesus name, amen.

June 9-15, 2010–A Perfect Life?

Contributed by Stephanie Opsal,  West Des Moines, IA

Warm-up Question

What do you think it would be like to be a celebrity?

A Perfect Life?

Britney Spears is one of many booming pop stars who started high but experienced troubles later on.  Her fame began when she was a blonde, teenage pop singer, reaching the top of the U. S.  pop music charts by age 17.  Her music played a key role in reviving the “teen pop” icon in the late 1990s.  She has sold over 85 million albums.

Yet her shining appearance is not evidence of a perfect life.  She has lived through two divorces, little privacy, mental breakdowns, rehabilitation centers, and losing custody of her kids.  A recent article describes how she shaved her head in a public salon for attention or due to emotional disturbance.

A song I remember from her second major album, Oops!.. I Did It Again, featured a song called “Lucky”.  The lyrics of the song describe the struggles of life for all people, even a stylish Hollywood star named Lucky:

“And they say..
She’s so lucky, she’s a star.
But she cry cry cries in her lonely heart, thinking
If there’s nothing missing in my life
Then why do these tears come at night?”

By the look of it, Lucky has everything, but something is still missing in her life.  Even the most famous people experience everyday struggles like you and me, and sometimes immensely greater problems as well.  Many embarrassing details of Britney’s personal life are open to the public, but no other celebrity’s life is perfect either, even if you can’t always see behind the dazzling star image.

Discussion Questions

  • Who’s your favorite celebrity?  Why?
  • Did you ever want to be famous?  Why?  Do you think that life would be easy?  Describe the perks and drawbacks you think would be associated with a celebrity’s life.
  • If you had the choice right now to be a famous person or an everyday person, which life would you choose?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, June 13, 2010, (Third Sunday of Pentecost)

2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15

Galatians 2:15-21

Luke 7:36-8:3

(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

Simon the Pharisee, whom Jesus visits in this week’s gospel reading, is a very law-abiding, righteous man who thinks highly of himself.  He feels very dignified before his guest, Jesus.  In contrast, the woman labeled “a sinner” kneels behind Jesus her Lord and weeps.  She gives him all that she can offer, pouring out costly perfume onto his feet and humbling herself completely.  What causes the difference in the responses of the Pharisee and the woman to Jesus?

The woman recognizes the reality of her sins and her true need for forgiveness.  She yearns for the grace and peace that only Jesus can offer.  The Pharisee, on the other hand, thinks he is following the Law perfectly and, thus, has no need for any forgiveness, let alone from this man Jesus who associates with sinners. 

So Jesus tells Simon a parable about two debtors, one owing 50 denarii and another owing 500 denarii.  Which one, Jesus asks Simon, will be more grateful when the creditor forgives both debts?  Simon gives what seems to be the obvious answer, “the one with the larger debt.”  But Simon’s great problem is that he is blind to his debt; he is not grateful because he does not think he owes anything.  He takes God’s forgiveness for granted.  He does not see that his pride is as serious a sin as anything this weeping woman has done.

Both Simon and the woman are in need of God’s forgiveness. The difference is that she knows her need and receives Jesus’ forgiveness, while the Pharisee, in his arrogant blindness, treats Jesus discourteously (he does not kiss him, wash his feet, or anoint his head with oil).  Simon receives little because he asks for little—and therefore shows little love in return.  The woman, acknowledging her need, receives the forgiveness she longs for. 

Jesus shows us that we are all in need of God’s forgiveness.  The Law helps us realize how much we sin, even when we’re being “good” like the Pharisee; it calls us to admit our need for grace.  Without Jesus’ perfect death for all sin and His resurrection from the dead, we would die forever. 

Sometimes we take this amazing gift for granted.  Because we hear about Jesus all the time, we incorrectly think that we would be “good enough” to make it into heaven on our own.  Like the Pharisee, we may look down on others who seem to be spectacularly sinful people.  In actuality, everyone is a sinner.  Britney Spears, a thief, your family members, a pastor, the president, you, and I are all sinners.  Our good actions are not enough to counteract our sinful mistakes in life.  In Britney Spears’ song, Lucky’s success doesn’t fulfill her; she is missing Jesus and His forgiveness in her life.  Like this humble woman, let us rejoice every day and give thanks to Jesus with all that we are.  Jesus forgives our every mistake.  By His sacrifice, he reunites us with a loving God.  What an awesome gift!

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think forgiveness and love go together?
  • Try to see yourself from the perspective of both the Pharisee and the woman.  Describe a situation where you thought your actions were fine only to discover you had been blind to a failing.  Describe another time when you admitted your sin to God and accepted His forgiveness.
  • Do you agree with the message of Jesus’ parable?  Does one forgiven a greater debt always feel greater gratitude?
  • Consider the ideas of “law” and “grace”.  Which one is harder for you to accept?  Some persons struggle more with noticing and admitting their  sin, thinking they have no need of forgiveness because, compared to many, they are pretty good.  Others are so burdened by guilt that they can not really accept forgiveness offered by God’s grace.   Where is your greatest challenge?

Activity Suggestions

  • Write a song or poem about something you learned from today’s gospel reading.  It can be directly about the story or more about a moral lesson, like the song “Lucky”.  If you want, your group could work together and perform the song.  If you prefer, you can draw a picture highlighting an aspect of the story.
  • At the end of our gospel reading in the first three verses of Luke chapter 8, some forgiven sinners accompany Jesus and His disciples as they go out to share the good news of Jesus’ forgiveness.  Tell at least one person this week why Jesus’ forgiveness is important to your life.

Closing Prayer

Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we praise you for your gift of forgiveness.  Help us to more deeply understand and appreciate this eternal gift you gave to all your people.  We thank you for the example of this weeping woman; may we give our lives to you as well.  We pray for all who struggle but place their hope in something less than you, O God.  Help them to see their sin and their need for the grace given through the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray.   Amen.