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February 10, 2013–Transcendent Moment

Contributed by John Wertz, Blacksburg, VA


Warm-up Question

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously said, “The only constant in life is change.”  Name three things in your life that have changed since the beginning of the school year?

Transcendent Moment

shutterstock_110592482editChances are that you or someone in your family was one of over 115 million people who watched the Super Bowl last weekend.  When the game was over, Joe Flacco was  named as the Most Valuable Player for the game.  Now to be sure, Flacco is still the same person he was before the game, but by shining brightly in the biggest game of the year, Flacco will now be seen in a different light by those around him.  People around the world will suddenly know his name.  Companies will ask him to endorse their products.  He’ll be lifted up by fans and celebrated as a hero in his community and eventually his team, or another team interested in his abilities, will probably pay him more money in his next contract.  Thanks to this one event on this one day his life will change.

Most of us will never play professional sports, but our lives often have transformational moments when our gifts are revealed to the world.  These moments may happen on a large public stage, like the Super Bowl.  These moments may happen in the quiet of a family room.  These moments may happen through a paper written for school.  We rarely know when these moments will occur, but when they happen, the people around us –our family, our friends, and our peers, begin to discover who we are and what we are capable of accomplishing.


Discussion Questions

  • Have you experienced transformational moment when you discovered something new about yourself or someone else?  How did you react?  How did the people around you react?
  • Can anyone in the group name the last five Super Bowl MVP’s?  What do you think makes some transformational moments lasting and others only temporary?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, February 10, 2013 (Transfiguration of Our Lord)

Exodus 34:29-35

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

Luke 9:28-36 [37-43]

(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

In our Gospel reading today from Luke, we see Jesus undergo a powerful transformational moment of his own.  Jesus takes Peter, James and John with him to the top of a mountain to talk to and listen to God in prayer.  In Luke, we see Jesus praying at his baptism (3:21).  We see Jesus praying the night before he calls the apostles (6:12).  We see Jesus praying following the feeding of the five thousand (9:18) and during his final days, we will see him praying in the Garden of Gethsemane (22:41) and on the cross (23:34, 46).  For the disciples, seeing Jesus in prayer would have been a fairly normal part of their faith and life, but their experience on top of the mountain with Jesus was certainly unique.  While he was praying, his clothing became dazzling white; his face began to change, and Moses and Elijah appeared in their glory.  Just as Peter appears to be getting a handle on what is happening, a terrifying cloud moves over them and a voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”  Within moments, the whole experience was over.  Jesus’ face and clothing returned to normal.  Moses, Elijah, and the cloud disappeared.  The voice faded away, but the there is no doubt that the disciples and Jesus were changed by this transformational moment.

In this time of prayer on top of a mountain, Jesus’ true nature is revealed by God’s presence and power.  For Jesus and the disciples, prayer was not an afterthought or something you only did at meals.  Prayer was an important part of a relationship with God and a place where they expected God to be present and active.  The dazzling clothing, the appearance of Moses and Elijah, and the booming voice from heaven during this time of prayer affirm Jesus’ mission and ministry and make it clear to the disciples that Jesus is more than just a teacher, miracle worker, and prophet.  Now certainly every time of prayer in scripture is not accompanied by a dramatic transformational event, but the story of the Transfiguration reminds us that through prayer we can experience God’s presence in our midst and we can discover more about who we are and who God is calling us to be.

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think Jesus took Peter, James and John with him to pray?  How is praying with a group different than praying alone?  How do you think you would have reacted if you had been on the mountain top praying with Jesus?
  • The voice from heaven affirms that Jesus is God’s Son, just as it did at Jesus’ baptism, but the focus of the overall message changes.   At the Baptism of Jesus, the voice says,  “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  At the Transfiguration, the voice says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”  Why do you think the message changed?  What does this message at the Transfiguration mean for Jesus? for the disciples? for all of us?
  • Prayer is clearly a part of Jesus’ relationship with God.  How is prayer a part of your relationship with God?  What is one question you have about prayer?

Activity Suggestions

  • Try a one-word prayer.  Say a prayer by having everyone in the group say one word.  Pick someone to start and then have the person to their left add the next word.  For example, the first person might say, “Dear,” the second person might say, “God,” and the third person might say, “we”.  Have people continue to add words until you get a complete prayer thought.
  • If your congregation participated in the Super Bowl of Caring, find a creative way to share the story of how your donations will help fight hunger in your community.  If your congregation did not participate in the Souper Bowl of Caring, use their website: to learn about this exciting ministry.

Closing Prayer

Loving God, we give you thanks for sending Jesus to be a light in the world and a model for ministry.  Transform us by your presence with us and inspire us to be your hearts and hands and voices in the world.  Amen.

June 1-7, 2011–Take It to the Lord in Prayer

Contributed by Dennis Sepper, University Pastor, Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA


Warm-up Question

How many friends have you checked in on today by text, Facebook or cell phone?

An Unexpected Message…

A couple of months ago and email showed up in my inbox.  When I opened the email, the message read, “Are you the Pastor Dennis Sepper who lived in Cincinnati?”  It was from the former organist of the church I served there.  I have to admit that it felt good to know someone was thinking of me and searching for me on the web.  That unexpected email led to a renewed connection with someone I cared about but our paths just led to different places and we lost touch.

About a month ago the student congregation at my school received a postcard from a group called the Gideons (these are the folks who leave Bibles in hotels and who may handout small New Testaments at your school or church).  The postcard stated that the local Gideon chapter prayed for our church’s mission and ministry by name and they wished us well.  The students of the congregation were touched to think that the Gideons would care enough that they would remember them by name in prayer.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever received a message or a Facebook friend request from someone that you didn’t expect?  How did it make you feel?
  • Has anyone told you that they prayed for you by name?  If so, how does knowing that fact affect your day or your life?  Does it give you more energy?  Does it make you more hopeful?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, June 5, 2011 (Seventh Sunday of Easter)

Acts 1:6-14

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

John 17:1-11

(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

As you may have noticed, our Gospel this week is really a prayer.  It is a prayer spoken by Jesus, directed to God, right after Jesus had eaten this last meal with the disciples and right before the passion and crucifixion of Jesus begins.  Also, you may have noted that Jesus uses the word “glory” quite a few times in this prayer.  You should know that in the Gospel John whenever the “glory” of Jesus is mentioned it is a reference not only to the resurrection of Jesus and his ascension to heaven, but it also includes Jesus’ suffering and death.  In John’s view the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension is how Jesus is glorified and how Jesus gives glory to God.  There is no way our experience can be the same as Jesus’ but we know what it means when, to experience a success, we have to work hard to achieve it.  Sometimes we have to “suffer” for a greater good.  As Christians we are a resurrection people but we walk the way of the cross.

In this final prayer, Jesus’ character is revealed and it is consistent with what he has shown throughout his life.  Jesus prays that God be glorified (verses 1-6), he then moves on to pray for the disciples (verses 6-19) and then Jesus prays for us! (See verses 20-27 which are not a part of our text this week but it’s only fair to look at the whole prayer of Jesus.)

What Jesus asks for in this prayer is that the close relationship that God and Jesus have that this closeness might now include the disciples and the Church throughout the world and throughout the centuries.  What is more, Jesus wants us to experience the love that God has for Jesus and Jesus has for us and Jesus asks God to

Prayer is a truly amazing thing.  God has given us the privilege to talk to God directly anytime we want or need to pray.  We don’t have to address God with special words, we don’t have to pray through a pastor or anyone else and there are no special rituals we have to perform to get God’s attention.  Our prayer can be as simple as saying “God, I need you.”  Prayer is one of the ways we stay connected to God.  Like texting or using Facebook to stay connected to our friends, prayer is how we stay connected to God.

Think about this: Jesus knows he is headed to his suffering and death and yet Jesus takes the time to pray for his disciples, who will deny and abandon him, and Jesus takes the time to pray for us.  Like that person who sent me an email or like the Gideon folks praying for the students at my school, it is a little bit of unexpected grace that Jesus prays for us that we might experience the love of God and Jesus and share that love with others!

Discussion Questions

  • How do you view prayer?  Do you see it as a privilege or as an obligation?  Why do you feel that way?  Do you see your personal prayer as an informal conversation with God or as a formal thing?
  • What do you think about the fact that just before his suffering and death Jesus prayed for his disciples and us?
  • Do you pray often or only when you need something from God?
  • If prayer is difficult, what would make prayer easier for you?

Activity Suggestions

Think of someone who might be surprised to hear from you.  It could be a grandparent or a distant relative or a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while.  Then write a note, ask to be their friend on Facebook, or text them and let them know you are thinking about them.  Better yet, let them know that you have prayed for them.  If that unexpected grace feels good for you, imagine how it will make them feel.

Closing Prayer

Abba, our heavenly Father, you are indeed worthy of our praise and worship.  We thank you for Jesus who was so loving that he prayed for us before his suffering and death.  By your Holy Spirit help us to glorify you in word and deed as we walk the way of the cross following Jesus.  Help us to love one another, along with the stranger, that all the world might know your love.  To you be the glory and the honor forever and ever.  Amen.

October 13-19, 2010–Into the Wind

Contributed by Bill King, Blacksburg, VA

Warm-up Question

What challenges have you faced which required a great deal of determination to meet? 

Into the Wind

As part of its “30 in 30” series, which focuses on 30 notable sports stories from the years 1979 through 2009, ESPN recently premiered a new film about perseverance and hope, “Into the Wind.”  This documentary is about Terry Fox, who, in 1980, set out to run across Canada.  A lofty goal you might think, but not necessarily worthy of a feature story on the world’s top sports network.  What sets Terry Fox’s trek apart from stories about buff ironman tri-athletes is that three years earlier he lost his right leg to bone cancer and made his attempt using a prosthetic leg—and ultimately lemon-sized tumors in his lungs.  His run, “The Marathon of Hope,” was an effort to raise awareness and funds for cancer research.

He ran for 143 days, covering two-thirds of the distance across Canada, before the spread of his cancer forced him to stop running shortly before his death.  Most days he  ran a marathon, twelve miles in the morning and fourteen in the afternoon.  His run became a national phenomenon and was front page news for months.  Since 1981 the Terry Fox Run has been held annually and has raised over $500 million dollars for cancer research.

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think Terry Fox’s story is so compelling?
  • What would motivate someone to take on such a punishing physical challenge?
  • What do you think kept him going in the early stages when nobody knew him or cared about his efforts?
  • What is the difference between pursuing noble goals and simply being foolish?


Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, October 17, 2010 (Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost)


Genesis 32:22-31

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

Luke 18:1-8

(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

A political ad playing in my area shows a woman posing pointed policy questions to a candidate.  As she becomes increasingly agitated, the camera pans out to reveal she is talking to brick wall.  The implication is clear; Candidate X has no interest whatsoever in what troubles her. 

The woman in the ad does not get any satisfaction from her candidate, but the widow in Jesus’ parable does finally break through the judge’s crooked contempt.  Though she feels like she is talking to a brick wall, she keeps flinging her words against the mortar until cracks appear in his stony apathy.  She does not win the day by superior logic and appeal to a sense of justice.  No, this is closer to the bratty child getting a candy bar at the checkout station by refusing to take “no” for an answer.  Just to shut her up the judge gives her what she wants.

So what are we to make of this parable?  On one level it is fairly clear. Luke even gives us the point as a preface:  “And he told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart (RSV).”  “Hang in there.  Don’t be discouraged.  Keeping praying and trusting God, even when the odds are long.”  That’s not always easy to do, but at least we understand the teaching.  But then we linger with this parable for a minute more and we begin to feel a little uncomfortable.  Is prayer then like laying siege to the heavenly castle; we get a response only by battering down divine resistance?  Does piety ultimately come down to being a pain in the divine neck? 

The disquiet arises because we are tempted to turn a parable into an allegory:  we mistakenly identify ourselves with the widow and God with the unjust judge.  But that kind of one-to-one correspondence is not what Jesus intends.  Rather this is a parable of contrast, emphasizing the difference between God and the judge.  The sense of the parable is more like, “If even a dirt bag of a crooked judge can be moved by persistence to act honorably, how much more will your loving Father, who longs to give you good things, answer when you call.  So do not despair; God’s care surrounds you, even when it feels like you are talking to a brick wall.  Lay your needs and concerns before the loving Father who longs to bless you.”

Whether we are Terry Fox, running in the cold to defy a faceless enemy, or just trying to master a new math concept, it can feel like we are confronting a brick wall.  In those moments, when we are on the edge of despair, we do well to remember that we are loved beyond measure.  The God who called us into being will not abandon us. 

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think is a “good prayer”?  Is anything off limits in prayer?
  • God knows our needs better than we do; so what is the point of prayer?
  • One writer has called prayer ‘wasting time with God.”  What do you think that means; what does it tell you about the purpose of prayer.
  • Most people, if they are honest, admit that their daily prayer life is confined to a few quick table blessings.  Why do you think we often resist praying?
  • How does our image of God affect how we pray and the content of our prayers?

Activity Suggestions

  • Hands Up/Hands Down—Prayer is like breathing; it involves alternately taking in and a giving out, asking and a receiving.  This exercise helps us get in touch with that spiritual rhythm.  Ask members of the group to sit quietly and close their eyes, slowly breathing in and out.  After a minute or so, tell people to turn their palms so that they are facing down, saying something like, “What is it that you need to let go of today?  Maybe it is anger at a friend.  Maybe it is fear about something.  Whatever it is, pretend it is in your hands and just let it fall on the ground.  Let it go.”  After some time has passed ask, “‘What is it you most need to receive from God to today?’  Turn your hands so that the palms are facing up and imagine God filling your hands with what you most need.”  Depending on your group you may want to talk about the experience or just let it be an experience of prayer.
  • As a group come up with a list of seven things or people for which you feel special concern.  Have members of the group to agree to make one of these items the focus of prayer each day in the coming week.

Closing Prayer

Loving God, it is not that you are reluctant to hear our prayers; we are often too busy or too fearful to lay our needs before you.  Guide our asking, that our petitions may reflect your hopes for creation, yet make us bold to believe you long to grant what is truly needful.  Give us patience to keep praying when the silence is deep, confident that we are heard and loved.  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 21-28, 2009 – “Boy in Balloon” appears to be a hoax… parents’ publicity stunt

Contributed by Steven Alloway
Granada Hills, CA

Warm-up Question:  Have you ever been tricked into believing something that you found out later wasn’t true? How did you respond? What did you do when you found out?

balloon-boy250The nation watched in shock and anxiety this past Thursday afternoon as a large, silver Mylar balloon swept across the Colorado skies. The balloon was believed to be carrying six-year-old Falcon Heene, whom his parents reported had climbed into the balloon that was tethered in their backyard, just before the knots were untied, releasing Falcon and the balloon into the air.

Four hours later, the balloon landed — empty. It was discovered that Falcon had been hiding in the attic of the garage the entire time. But now, authorities believe that the entire ordeal was actually a hoax, a publicity stunt orchestrated by his parents in the hope of securing a reality television show for their family.

Sheriff Jim Alderen says that suspicions of the hoax first arose when the Heene family was interviewed on CNN’s “Larry King Live”. 

Felony and misdemeanor charges are expected to be filed against Richard and Mayumi Heene, as well as an investigation by Child Protective Services.

Discussion Questions

  1. Did you follow the news coverage of Falcon Heene and the balloon? Were you concerned for his safety? What’s your reaction now that it was all a hoax?
  2. What do you think should happen to Richard and Mayumi Heene? Should they be found guilty? What should be done with their children?
  3. With all the publicity surrounding these events, do you think the Heene family will ultimately be successful in their bid for a reality show? If so, would you watch the show? Why or why not?
  4. How real is reality TV? How much do you trust the truth or reality of what goes on in “reality shows”?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, October 25, 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

“I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.” The words of this familiar hymn, Amazing Grace, of course do not refer to literal blindness. It’s about blindness to the truth about Jesus, the gospel. Earlier in the chapter, the Pharisees provide an example of this blindness. They ask Jesus a silly question to test him, to trip him up. They weren’t concerned about the truth. They were too busy with their own public image and reputation, and the fact that Jesus was making them look bad.

On the other hand, Bartimaeus had his eyes open before Jesus ever restored his physical sight. He had no doubt heard of Jesus’ ability to work miracles, and he too wanted to be healed. So as soon as he heard that Jesus was near, he cried out to him. And he continued to cry out! In spite of being scolded by those around him, he continued to call to Jesus to help him.

And Jesus took notice. He called Bartimaeus over to him, and restored his sight. And as he does, he tells him, “Your faith has made you well.” Miracles are all well and good, but without faith, what difference do they really make? Blind Bartimaeus saw the truth about Jesus: that this was the Son of David, the man who could make him whole again, both physically and spiritually.

Many today are still blind to the truth and good news of the gospel. At times, our own vision and faith can be a little weak. There is strong temptation and encouragement to make us think that the way of the world is the only path to take, the only way to be happy and whole; that the gospel, and even God, is a hoax.

We may look like fools shouting into the wind to some people when we cry out, “Jesus, have mercy on us!” But we must press on. We must continue to cry out for Jesus for mercy, healing, forgiveness, and love, no matter what anyone says or how we look.

We can trust that God does hear us. God answers. Where we were blind, we shall see… through faith.

Discussion Questions

  1. Could Bartimaeus still have been healed physically had he not first been healed spiritually? Why or why not?
  2. What are some ways that God uses our afflictions and weaknesses (and strengths) to help accomplish his mission and work?
  3. What are some ways that we can help share and illuminate God’s promises and truth with others, including each other?
  4. What makes our words and actions of witness trustworthy?

Activity Suggestion

Sing “Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #779. 

Do some research into famous hoaxes in history. An Internet search for “famous hoaxes” is a good place to start. Why did people believe them? How was the truth finally discovered? How does this compare with the truth of the gospel, and the claim by some people that it’s all a hoax or myth? Talk about what faith, trust, and belief mean, especially in relationship to proof and fact.

Closing Prayer

Lord, I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see. Let my eyes always be open, that I might not be blind to your truth and word. Help me to share your truth with others, so that they too might see and know your great love and healing. Amen.