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Faith Lens

February 23-March 1, 2011–No Strings Attached

Contributed by Dennis Sepper,

University Pastor, Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma Washington

Warm-up Question

Name one thing you spent money on this week.  Why did you spend the money on that one thing?  How did you feel when you laid down the cash and took possession of whatever it was that you bought?

No Strings Attached

A commuter student at the university where I work lost everything in a house fire.  Thankfully, her family and the family pets got out of the house in time and were not injured but the entire house burned down.  They lost everything, their treasured memories in pictures and souvenirs, their clothes and beds, their entire possessions.  Our student even lost her books for the spring semester which, as a nursing student, was a very substantial loss.  Certainly insurance will cover a good deal of the loss and the school has a fund which allowed our student to buy another set of nursing books, but insurance and the good will of others cannot cover everything and it cannot replace the personal items that each family member had collected and now lost.

These kinds of tragedies happen every day from accidents to natural disasters.  It’s funny how we always think our possessions will be there.  We become so attached to them that we deny that one day they could go away.  Even though it happens every day, we still think that we will be able to hold on to everything that is ours.  And should we come to the realization that what we have is transitory, we worry about it and so we invest in alarm systems and fire alarm systems and locked boxes all in an attempt to hold on to our possessions.

(Writer’s note:  if you have a local example by all means use it.  One could use a natural disaster too, such as the flooding in Australia, etc)

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever thought about losing all your possessions?  How does that thought make you feel?  What are the things you would miss most?
  • Do you every worry about losing something or having it stolen?  How does that make you feel?
  • What steps to do you and/or your family use to make sure you keep your possessions?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, February 27, 2011 (Eighth Sunday after Epiphany

Isaiah 49:8-16a

1 Corinthians 4:1-5

Matthew 6:24-34

(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

With today’s Gospel text from Matthew 6 we are still in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount.  At the beginning of Chapter 6 Jesus warns the disciples against drawing attention to themselves through their piety around almsgiving, prayer and fasting.  Jesus then turns his attention to money and to possessions.  Jesus warns against “storing” up treasures here on earth and encourages us to store up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21).  Today, our text opens again with a warning against money.  “You cannot serve God and wealth,” says Jesus in verse 24.

We may not think that we worship money in the same way we worship God but, if you take the time to reflect on it, we do come awfully close.  Have you ever seen someone accidently rip a one, five, or ten dollar bill?  If you look at the faces of the people around when that happens you would think that the person just blasphemed the Lord.  We are taught at a very early age that money is sacred and that it has a power all its own.  In our day there are a number of people who prefer to serve money rather thank God.  (For a humorous and insightful treatment of this worship of money see Health, Money, and Love and why we don’t enjoy them by Robert Farrar Capon especially pages 87-91.)

From that point Jesus goes on to explore the root causes of our dependence upon possessions and money; we human beings cannot predict or see the future, therefore, we have a deep rooted anxiety about the future.  We simply believe that money and possessions will keep us secure or can protect us from that unknown future.  However, as can be seen in our opening discussion, money and possessions have no power to protect us, for they are as temporal as we human being are temporal.

The words of Jesus in Matthew 6:25-33 are addressed to his disciples who did leave everything behind to follow Jesus.  Jesus reminds his disciples that they are of more value to God than the birds of the air or the lilies of the field.  God has called them into this life of discipleship and God will care for them as God cares for all creation.

That message is valuable to modern day disciples too.  One of the things Jesus came to show us is that all of our lives are in the hand of God—a gracious and loving God.  It is interesting to note that the word “worry” comes from an Old English word that means “to choke”.  That is certainly what worry can do to our lives.  Worry can cause sleepless nights and paralyze us into inactivity.  Jesus came to call us to action in the world and Jesus promises that God will take care of us so that we are free to serve God and neighbor.

While Jesus can be very hard on possessions and wealth, he isn’t saying that every disciple is called to life of poverty.  Jesus simply wants us to keep our priorities straight.  Even today, our lives are in God’s hands and God still continues to care for each and every one of us.  Earlier in the chapter Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Our hearts should be centered on God for that is indeed a treasure no one can take away from us.

When Jesus speaks of not worrying about tomorrow, he is not advocating a “don’t worry, be happy” Bobbie McFerrin kind of attitude.  Rather, he calls us to a sure and confident faith that the God who calls us his children and into the world will care for us today, tomorrow, and in the months and years ahead.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you believe people worship and serve money?  Give an example of something you have seen or experienced.
  • What kinds of things do you worry about?  Have you ever been so worried about something that it causes you not to take action?
  • What are some other things that people do to try to be secure against the unknown future?  What do some people do to try to control the uncontrollable future?  (Think about athletes and coaches who have favorite hats or ties that can “guarantee” a victory)
  • On the whole, do you have hope for the future or not?  Why?

Activity Suggestions

  • Assemble a group of current newspapers, news magazines or, if you are in a position to have internet access, bring up the homepage of CNN or some other news website. As an individual or as a group look for news articles that would cause you or others to worry or be anxious about the future.  After you have identifies several, as an individual or as a group write a short prayer for people who might be worried about that issue or news event.  When we do this at our university we call this activity “praying the headlines” and we try to do it about once a month.
  • Another thing you can do is link this week’s discussion to Luther’s explanation of the fourth petition of The Lord’s Prayer.  Note how Luther says that when we ask God for “daily bread” God provides much more.

Closing Prayer

(Use the prayers from the above activity, “praying the headlines,” or the following.)

Loving God, we know that you provide for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field and indeed they are well kept and beautiful.  However, even in the midst of such evidence of your care we still worry about so many things and sometimes that worry dominates our thoughts and actions.  Fill us this day with your Holy Spirit, a Spirit of power and might.  Install in us a sure and certain faith that we can cast all our worries and anxieties on you, knowing that you will give us your peace, a peace that will allow us to confidently walk into the future to serve you and our neighbor.  In the name of Christ Jesus we pray.  Amen

November 25-December 2, 2009 – Angel bus driver

Contributed by Connor Early (10th grade student), Clive, IA
and Angie Larson, Clive, Iowa

Warm-up Question:  What would you do to help people in need? Are there limits to what you would do?

jorge-munoz200Jorge Munoz may sound like the name of a typical New Yorker, but he is much more than that. He is a school bus driver! But more importantly, Jorge Munoz, 44, has supplied over 70,000 meals to the homeless over the past four years.

Every night he pulls up in his white pickup truck and unloads as many as 140 meals with hot food, coffee, and hot chocolate. Both food and gas costs are estimated to be about $400-450 a week, which he pays for with his $700 a week paycheck. People of all backgrounds come to receive a meal, usually their first and only for the day.

Jorge says that seeing these people remind him of when he first arrived in America in the 1980’s. He was born in Columbia and his father had died when he was young. His mother had moved to Brooklyn to earn money to support him and his sister, and he soon followed. He achieved citizenship with his mother and sister in 1976. He stood on the streets not looking for work, but as an immigrant, much like the people he serves.

Jorge began his now non-profit meal program in the summer of 2004, naming it “An Angel in Queens, Inc.” His work has consumed much of his time, money, and space, but he or his sister carries the work on every night of the year. When asked why he spends so much time helping people he doesn’t even know, he replied:

“I have a stable job, my mom, my family, a house… everything I want, I have. And these guys [don’t]. So I just think, ‘OK, I have the food.’ At least for today they’re going to have a meal to eat.”


Discussion Questions

  1. How is Jorge helping to make a difference in the world? What steps is he taking to reduce hunger?
  2. How do you think the people feel towards Jorge’s generosity? What is something they might say to him?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 29, 2009. (first day of Advent)

(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.

Scripture Reflection

In the 1st Thessalonians text, Paul writes about increasing and abounding in love. In Luke, we are reminded to not be weighed down by the worries of this life. Both texts spread news about living a life of abundance instead of a life of scarcity. Often we think that we do not have enough. We do not have enough money. We do not have enough material goods. We do not have enough of whatever it takes to fill our need or want.

The good news is that love abounds and God provides. Jesus tells us that the kingdom is near. The kingdom is within us.

In the Gospel, we are warned against things that lead to a life of scarcity. Jesus tells us to look out for those things that get in the way of living the abundant life that God has planned for our lives. When we look at life as short and precious as it is, we can adopt an attitude of gratefulness; abounding in love.

Jorge Munoz adopts this way of life. He does not let his career as a bus driver or that he’s an immigrant keep him from giving in abundance. Instead, he realizes that he has much to give from his abundance. He is not weighed down by what he lacks, but gives from what he has. We can do the same.

Discussion Questions

  1. In what area of your life do you feel like you have scarcity? What is scarcity?
  2. Realistically, do you think you would be like Jesus, James and John, or the other ten disciples?

Learn more about: 

Activity Suggestion

Everything I have

Ask your group to write down everything that they own all over a huge piece of paper. Or do it as a huge collage of photos, pictures, and drawings.

  1. Step back and look at all the things listed.
  2. What’s your first impression?
  3. What are your first thoughts about your life, generosity, need, decisions you make, lifestyle, and how you will live life?

Closing Prayer

Blessed Savior, thank you for serving us. Help us to remember to serve others. We know that at times we look towards power and prestige; we ask you to help us redirect ourselves during those times. Bless those who serve others with their lives. Enable us to learn and live extraordinary lives of service. In your name we pray. Amen.

October 7-14, 2009 — A free market

Contributed by Jocelyn Breeland
Fairfax, VA 

Warm-up Question: Do any of the things you own make you sad? Do any of them consume a lot of your time?

money-bag200Michael Moore’s latest documentary, “Capitalism: A Love Story,” is a continuation of the award-winning filmmaker’s attack on the system that defines the U.S. economy. In it, he looks at the winners and losers in the latest chapter of our economic drama — the financial collapse of late 2008.

Those familiar with Moore’s previous films will recognize his theatrical attempts to show how the wealthy ignore the ordinary people they exploit. In “Roger & Me,” the documentary that made Moore famous, he pursued GM CEO Roger B. Smith, while showing how Smith’s decision to move manufacturing jobs to Mexico devastated GM workers in Moore’s hometown of Flint, Michigan. In “Bowling for Columbine,” Moore contrasted people who promote and enjoy firearms with victims of gun violence. “Fahrenheit 911,” a look at the events following the September 11 terrorist attacks, frames the decision to go to war in Iraq in terms of the petroleum interests of President Bush’s family and Saudi Arabian royals. “Sicko” looked at the winners and losers in the American health care system.

Together, Moore’s films have grossed nearly $200 million and his combination of humor and shocking contrasts have brought a new audience to the documentary genre. For example, one scene in “Capitalism” has Moore setting up police crime scene tape on Wall Street at the site of a “crime” against American taxpayers. At another point, the film asks “When did Jesus become a capitalist?”

Despite his success, there are many who criticize Moore’s politics and his methods. He has agreed with the criticism that “Capitalism: A Love Story” oversimplifies by labeling capitalism evil. However, he said, “…if I tell you that there’s a home foreclosed on every seven and a half seconds, you need to know that that’s absolutely true.”

Michael Moore is a man who enjoys stirring up controversy, and he would appear to have succeeded once again.

(Note: You’ll find good background material for this Faith Lens discussion and lesson in the ELCA Statement on “Economic Life: Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood for All“.)

Discussion Questions

(Note: Leaders should be prepared to discuss capitalism in general terms. However, for the purposes of this discussion, student perceptions of the role of businesses, workers, and markets are as valid as any.)

  1. Have you seen any of Michael Moore’s films? Would you like to? Why, or why not?
  2. What’s capitalism?
  3. Looking at Moore’s subjects — jobs sent overseas, the Iraq war, health care, and the financial meltdown — is capitalism itself really the problem or cause? What else may contribute to these problems?
  4. Given that Moore’s films have made him a very wealthy man, is his criticism of capitalism hypocritical? What would you do in his shoes?
  5. Can capitalists be faithful, generous, compassionate Christians?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, October 11, 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

Do we need to be poor to be saved? Does God have something against the wealthy? Sometimes, it seems that way, and today’s Gospel is one of those times.

A man asks Jesus what he must do to be saved. Jesus’ first answer is simple enough: obey the commandments. The man says he’s done exactly that his whole life, but he believes there must be something more. The next step, Jesus tells him, is to sell all his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. The man goes away, despondent. It’s as if he realizes the price of salvation is too high.

The disciples ask a question that resonates today. If it’s that hard, how can any of us be saved? The answer in this case, as we see time and again throughout the New Testament, is that we cannot earn our own salvation. If we must deserve to be saved, then we are all doomed.

The truth is that Jesus, through his sacrifice on the cross and resurrection, has earned salvation for all of us — it’s a gift. And because God has provided for all our needs, we don’t need to rely on or obsess about material possessions for our safety, security, consolation, acceptance, or identity.

Instead, God wants us to separate ourselves from the things and stuff in life that distract us from Jesus, the gift of salvation, and living as humble servants of others. From a current world point of view, this can be a very big sacrifice. It can mean standing against the flow of pop culture, persuasive marketing, and social pressures. However, Jesus assures us that all who make the sacrifices are following God’s desires for humanity and participating in the vision of creation that God holds up for us. Jesus reminds us that living simply and being generous with others isn’t for the sake of getting something really great in return; it’s about trusting in the gift of new life we have received and living as thankful people.

Discussion Questions

(Note: Don’t forget that there are probably a variety of family and economic contexts within the group of young people participating. Some may be very sensitive and painful. The point of the discussion is not to neatly organize everything into a good or bad category, but to reflect on the life that we have been set free to live in the gospel and the challenges it may pose.)

  • Is it possible to be wealthy and be saved?
  • Consider the ways you might acquire wealth. Is it possible to do so while obeying God’s will and being faithful in living a life of humble compassionate justice as Jesus did?
  • In what ways does the gospel message and Jesus’ example ask us to change how we go about everyday life and business?
  • Often in disasters (earthquakes, fires, floods) people lose all their possessions. Can this be good news for their faith?
  • Do rich and poor people view their faith differently?
  • How does Jesus’ view of wealth affect your career and lifestyle choices?

Activity Suggestion

Design an economic system that is consistent with your faith. You may choose to simply make modifications to our existing system, for example, to eliminate homelessness, ensure universal access to medical care, or find employment for everyone (if you believe these are imperatives of your faith). Or, you may choose to create a whole new system from scratch.

  • Will your system work only in the United States?
  • How will you convince others to join your new system?
  • What are the benefits of it for communities? Individuals? Families?
  • What might be the weak spots in it that you’ll have to work on?
  • How does it reflect your faith and beliefs?

Write a brief description of your system and post it as a comment on the Faith Lens blog. Read and comment on the responses of other groups.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, thank you for providing for our needs and sometimes our “wants,” the stuff that we enjoy but could live without. Help us to remember that the only thing we cannot live without is your gracious love and endless mercy. Everything we have is a gift from you, and we work every day to share that gift with others. Teach us to be untiring in our love for each other and fearless in our generosity with others. We pray for the wisdom and strength to follow Christ’s example. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.