Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

Faith Lens

April 28, 2013–Lesson Before Dying

Contributed by Paul Baglyos, St. Paul, MN


Warm-up Question

Whose are you?  Who are yours?

Lesson Before Dying

shutterstock_94130377editLt. Col. Mark Weber lives with his wife and their three sons near the Twin Cities in Minnesota.  Recently, Lt. Col. Weber published a book called Tell My Sons, which is a collection of personal stories and life lessons that he wanted to pass on to his sons before he dies from the intestinal cancer with which he was diagnosed in 2010.  In a newspaper interview and on a YouTube video, Lt. Col. Weber has talked about his reasons for writing the book.  Watch the news video and/or read the news article and consider the following discussion questions.


Discussion Questions

  • How do you think being a father helps Lt. Col. Weber to face his illness and impending death with courage, humor and hope?
  • Do you think it’s a good idea for Lt. Col. Weber and his wife to discuss his terminal illness openly with their sons?  Why or why not?
  • What do you think is the most difficult and painful aspect of this story?
  • What do you think is the most hopeful and inspiring aspect of this story?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 28, 2013 (Fifth Sunday of Easter)

 Acts 11:1-18

Revelation 21:1-6

John 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

Here Jesus is speaking to his disciples shortly before his arrest and crucifixion.  The “he” at the very beginning of verse 31 (“When he had gone out . . .”) refers to Judas Iscariot, who has just left the supper table in order to betray Jesus to those who wanted to arrest him.  Jesus speaks about his impending suffering and death as his being “glorified.”  This might seem odd to us because there is nothing “glorious” about the humiliation and agony Jesus is about to face.  Jesus makes it clear, however, that he is not glorifying his impending death but rather glorifying God to whom his entire life is devoted.  Not even the certainty of his own death dissuades Jesus from his devotion to God.  Jesus testifies that his life belongs entirely to God and not to the power of death; death cannot extinguish his life, even though it will take him away from his disciples to where they “cannot come” (verse 33).

Jesus calls his disciples to share his life of devotion to God through their love for one another.  His glory becomes also their glory when they love one another just as he has loved them.  Love is the sacred purpose of human life in the image of God; love is the power of God that overcomes all suffering and death that afflict human life.  There is nothing glorious about suffering and death, but there is glory – God’s glory – in life lived in love for others even in the face of suffering and death.  To live in love for others even in the face of death is to share Christ’s victory over the power of death.  Our lives, after all, do not belong to us alone but to God who has created us to love one another, and to love all others, as God in Christ loves us.

Discussion Questions

  • How does the story of Lt. Col. Weber provide an example of what Jesus calls us to, loving others even in the face of death?
  • What do you think Jesus means by loving one another “just as I have loved you”?
  • Who do you love just as Jesus loves you?  Who loves you just as Jesus loves you?  Whose love do you count on each day?  Who counts on your love each day?

Activity Suggestions

Within a group discussion share one example of how, in the past week, you have loved another person as Jesus loves you, or how someone else has loved you as Jesus loves you.  If you can’t think of a good example from the past week, try to anticipate a good example that might occur in the coming week.  Discuss how love for others can be a defiance of the power of death.

Individually, write an intention to love another person as Jesus loves you.  Using the closing prayer below, pray as a group that each of you might be able to fulfill the intentions you have written.  Keep your intention with you throughout the coming week for your own personal prayer and as your own personal reminder to love that other person as Jesus loves you.

Closing Prayer

Pray together the prayer attributed to Francis of Assisi on page 87 in Evangelical Lutheran Worship or page 48 in the Lutheran Book of Worship.  If you do not have access to ELW or the LBW, you can find the text on the internet.

December 23, 2012–Be Unreasonable

Contributed by Jocelyn Breeland, Fairfax, VA


Warm-up Question

Are you a reasonable person? Is that an asset?

Be Unreasonable

Daniel Epstein is an unreasonable man. A self-proclaimed “impatient optimist” and founder of the Unreasonable Institute, Epstein believes entrepreneurship is the key to solving the world’s great problems and his organization is committed to supporting the entrepreneurs who are tackling our most impossible challenges.

For example, the team behind Artificial Vision for the Blind, have invented a way for people without sight – even without eyes – to learn to see using cameras mounted on glasses and a sensory pad that converts signals from the visual cortex into physical sensations. Individuals outfitted with this apparatus have been able to describe their surroundings, even read books.

The Unreasonable Institute supports innovators by giving them advice and help in raising capital so they can bring their ideas to the world. To date, the Unreasonable Institute has helped 70 teams in 36 nations, and they continue to attract new innovators every year.

The Unreasonable Institute gets its name from a quote by George Bernard Shaw, who said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Thanks to the Institute, unreasonable men and women all over the world have some help in changing the world for the better.


Discussion Questions

  • Can you name a historical figure who succeeded by being unreasonable? (For example, you might say that Christopher Columbus was unreasonable in believing he could sail around the world to India or that Abraham Lincoln was unreasonable to think he could free the slaves without destroying the Union.)
  • In the instance you named, what do you think contributed to the success of the unreasonable idea?
  • Think of a problem in your congregation, your community, or the world. How could you address that problem? Be unreasonable.

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December 23, 2012 (Fourth Sunday of Advent)

Micah 5:2-5a

Hebrews 10:5-10

Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]

(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

Today’s Gospel highlights a very improbable situation. We have Elizabeth, elderly and barren but carrying a child, and Mary, a virgin, also pregnant.

It might be a challenge for us to relate to the details of this scene. None of us is likely to be in the exact situation as Elizabeth or Mary. But we are similar in this way: Like these two women, we all have received gifts from God, and we each have a special purpose to do his will.

Although we are unlikely to ever be in the presence of the unborn Jesus, we do see and feel the presence of Christ in our lives every day. Through Bible study and prayer, we can come to know God better, and more easily recognize his constant presence among us.

Like John in the womb, God has given us souls attuned to his presence. If we can understand our world through the eyes of faith, as Mary and Elizabeth did, then we too will leap for joy, like John, in the presence of our Messiah.

Discussion Questions

  • How does Elizabeth know that Mary is “the mother of my Lord”?
  • Explain the blessings Elizabeth proclaims in verses 42 and 45.
  • What does Mary mean in verse 46 when she says her “soul magnifies the Lord”?
  • Does your soul also magnify the Lord? How so?

Activity Suggestions

Write your own Magnificat:

Luke 1:46-55 form a poem (sometimes sung) known as the Magnificat (translated: my soul magnifies). In it, Mary praises God for his blessing to her, and his many great acts on behalf of his people.

  • To write your own, start with a simple expression of praise and thanksgiving for something God has done in your life. Tell what this means to you.
  •  Next, list the qualities of God’s actions towards you (mercy, power, wisdom, compassion, etc.).
  • Finally, list some (at least three or four) of the other ways God has shown his presence to you, your friends and family, and your community.
  • Share your work with the others in the group.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the many ways, great and small, that you show yourself to us every day. We are comforted by your presence, and emboldened to live fully the lives you have planned for us. Teach us to know and accept your will, and let our souls leap for joy to have you near. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

December 16, 2012–Expanding the Promise

Contributed by Steven Alloway, Granada Hills, CA


Warm-up Question

What would your life be like if you had extraordinary superpowers? What would you do and how would you use them? What if one day you discovered that everyone in the world had the same superpowers as you?

Expanding the Promise

Amber Case studies the interaction between humans and technology, in a field known as Cyborg Anthropology. This can include things such as prosthetic limbs and electronic implants in the brain, but more commonly deals with computers, smartphones, and other devices that people use every day.

“A cyborg is simply someone who interacts with technology,” says Case. “The technology can be a physical or mental extension, and doesn’t need to be implanted in the person.”

As we interact with this technology, it gives us abilities that just a few years ago were purely in the realm of science fiction, from sensors that turn lights on and off as we enter or leave a room, to camera phones that allow us to speak face to face with someone on the other side of the globe.

“A cyborg is not a Terminator or Robocop,” says Case. “Everyone that uses technology is a superhuman. It’s not so strange anymore because it’s the norm—most everyone else around us is also a superhuman.”


Discussion Questions

  • What kind of technology do you use in your everyday life? What does it allow you to do?
  • What can you do with technology now that you weren’t able to do five years ago? What can you do that your parents couldn’t do when they were your age?
  • Are there disadvantages to this technology? What do you do when your batteries run out unexpectedly, or you’re in a place where you’re unable to connect?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December 16, 2012 (Third Sunday of Advent)

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Philippians 4:4-7

Luke 3:7-18

(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

The Jews were God’s chosen people: the children of Abraham. He had set them apart from the rest of the world, blessing them and giving them a rich inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey. As such, it was hard not to feel superior. But John tells the people something different. Being children of Abraham doesn’t make them superior. The Lord can raise up children of Abraham from the stones!

It seems an odd passage to study in the middle of Advent. Where’s the “peace on Earth, good will to mankind”? Instead, we get, “You brood of vipers!” and promises of axes and fires poised for the judgment. But if you look more closely, it’s actually a very appropriate passage. Advent is the preparation for the coming of the Savior. And that’s exactly what this is. John was sent to prepare the way of the Lord: to get the people ready for the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It’s just not what we’re used to at Christmas.

Still, at its core, it’s a very hopeful passage. It’s a foreshadowing of what Jesus came to do: to take the promise given to the Jews, and open it up to everyone. To make us ALL children of Abraham, and recipients of a rich inheritance—salvation.

But that doesn’t make it easy. Though anyone can now receive the inheritance of salvation, John makes it very clear that not everyone will. Only those who bear fruit will receive the promised blessings. The rest will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So how do we bear fruit? First we must be baptized. Baptized not only with water, but with the fire of the Holy Spirit. This isn’t like the fire that will burn up the refuse that produces no fruit. Rather, this fire burns within us. Through the Holy Spirit, we are able to be “on fire” for the Lord, filled with the joy of salvation and spreading that joy, that fire, to those around us. And that’s what the coming of the Savior is all about.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you tend to feel superior to the people in your life who aren’t Christians? Or do you try to spread the good news of Christ to them, so that they can have the same fire that you do?
  • “Baptism by fire” is sometimes used to mean a painful or harrowing ordeal which makes us better people, once we’ve come through it. In what way has your Christian life been a “baptism by fire”? What are some difficulties you’ve had to endure for your faith, and how have they made you a better person, or a better Christian?
  • What are some things that you have now, or are able to do now, that wouldn’t be possible without Christ in your life?

Activity Suggestions

Read the promise first made to Abraham in Genesis 17. Compare it to the promise in Romans 4, that we can all be children of Abraham.

Closing Prayer

Lord Jesus, thank you for the promise that you made to include us in the inheritance of Abraham. Make your Spirit burn in us, so that we may bear fruit, sharing that promise with those around us and spreading the joy of your salvation.  Prepare our hearts for your unexpected coming into our lives and our world. Amen.

April 22, 2012–It’s a Miracle!

Contributed by John Wertz, Blacksburg, VA


Warm-up Question

Can you think of something that you would describe as a miracle?

 It’s a Miracle!

On Good Friday, a Navy fighter jet lifted off from a base in Virginia Beach, Virginia.  The jet suffered a severe mechanical.  The pilots tried to return to the base, but it quickly became apparent that they were in trouble.  After a short flight, the jet crashed into an apartment complex and destroyed over 40 units.  Amazingly, no one was killed.

According to witnesses and experts, several factors combined to prevent a larger tragedy.  The pilots managed to dump fuel which helped prevent a larger fire.  They waited until the last possible moment to eject from the plane so they could try and guide the plane as long as possible.  The plane hit an empty courtyard and because the accident occurred in the middle of the day, most people were not home at the time of the crash.  After the accident, people on the ground were able to pull the pilots away from the flames to prevent them from suffering further injury.  A total of seven people were hurt, but all of them were out of the hospital within two days.

The response from leaders in the area was clear.  According to the Associate Press article “Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms took to Twitter on Saturday to celebrate the fact no lives were lost, calling it a “Good Friday miracle.” Adm. John C. Harvey, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces, said he was “quite surprised, to be honest”, that no one had died, calling it an “amazing miracle.”  Gov. Bob McDonnell told The Virginian-Pilot newspaper that the lack of loss of human life was “an act of divine providence.”


Discussion Questions

  • The leaders in the area clearly viewed the fact that no one was killed as a miracle.  Do you agree?  Why or why not?
  • How would you define a miracle?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 22, 2012 (Third Sunday of Easter)

 Acts 3:12-19

1 John 3:1-7

Luke 24:36b-48

(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

Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women returned and announced the good news.  The tomb was empty.  Jesus had risen from the dead.  Peter ran to see the empty tomb for himself, but he didn’t see the angels or risen Lord.  The disciples on the road to Emmaus returned and shared their encounter with Jesus, but hearing about something miraculous is not the same as experiencing it yourself.  So when Jesus appeared to the disciples, it should be no surprise that the disciples were startled and terrified—or that they initially believed that Jesus is a ghost.

The disciples are trying to make sense of this miraculous event.  Trying to understand how the horrible death they witnessed on Friday night could be overcome.  Trying to understand how God could accomplish something so miraculous.  Encountering Jesus’ ghost would be a little easier to believe, but after touching and seeing his wounds and sharing a meal with him, the disciples are convinced that Jesus has risen from the dead.  It’s a miracle!  Christ’s presence moves them from fear to acceptance, from confusion to clarity.

Miracles, by definition, are occurrences that defy a rational explanation, but for the disciples, the miracle of the Resurrection offered clarity and brought understanding.  Jesus’ resurrection makes it clear that God’s power is greater than the power of death.  Jesus’ resurrection makes it clear that God, through Jesus, is on a mission to love, bless and forgive the whole world.  Jesus’ resurrection makes it clear that as “witnesses of these things”(Lk 24:48), the disciples are called to go and share this miraculous good news with the world.

In this Easter season, we, like the disciples, hear the amazing, miraculous news of the Resurrection.  Like them, we may have moments of doubt and uncertainty.  This truly is an amazing story and although you and I may not be able to touch Jesus’ wounds or watch him eat a piece of fish in person, we can still encounter the risen Jesus today.  We encounter Jesus through the story of what God has done and is doing for God’s people.  We encounter Jesus as we experience God’s presence through the bread and wine of communion and as we are surrounded by the community of God’s people.  We encounter Jesus as we hear God’s Word through the story of the scriptures.  As we, like the disciples, encounter Jesus we can believe the miracle of the tomb empty, receive forgiveness of sin, and rejoice in the hope that thanks to the resurrection we have the promise of eternal life with God.

Discussion Questions

  •  How do you think you would have reacted if you had been in the room with the disciples?
  • What is the first question you would have asked Jesus?  How do you think he would have responded?
  • How can you be a witness to the resurrection in the world today?

Activity Suggestions

Jesus calls us to be witnesses to the good news of the resurrection.  Try one of the following activities this week or develop one that fits your particular community.

  • Create favorite scripture passage posters and place them around the church.
  • Look in the “Contact” list in your phone and text one person who doesn’t have a church home to invite them to worship or a church event
  • Write a handwritten note to someone in the congregation or community who is not able to come to worship
  • Give time to a service project as a way of sharing God’s love.

Closing Prayer

Loving God, we give you thanks for the empty tomb and the risen Jesus.  Fill us with the joy of your love, help us to know your presence in our lives, and inspire us to be your witnesses, sharing the story of the resurrection and your unbreakable love with those around us.  Amen.

April 8, 2012–Open Ended Resurrection

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

Warm-up Question

Have you ever experienced something for which there was no explanation?  What happened?  How did it make you feel?

It’s a Mystery…

In the past months two mysteries have made the national news and were all noted on the internet.  The first mystery happened in Le Roy, New York.  Twelve female students from Le Roy Junior Senior High (that’s not a mistake, both Junior High and Senior High must me in the same building or on the same grounds) began experiencing uncontrollable twitching movements and verbal outbursts.  The condition then spread to some adults too.  While the twitching was indeed real no one could explain what was happening…but they sure tried.  The school was checked for mold and chemicals but nothing was found.  Some psychologists stated that it must be stress that is causing the problem.  But in the end no one could explain what was causing the condition.  It remains a mystery.

The second is currently going on is Clintonville, Wisconsin where the residents were awakened by loud sounding booms that rattled their windows.  The event took place in neighborhoods all over town for about four days straight.  No one could figure out what was causing the booms and the city hired a company to explore what might be happening.  Again, people were quick to come up with possible explanations:  pipes were bursting underground or perhaps there were very small earthquakes under the city.  But in the end no one has yet explained what is causing the booms.  It remains a mystery.

Discussion Questions

  • If you identified a mystery in your life thinking about the warm up question, did you or others try to explain what caused your experience?  Were the explanations satisfying or did it remain a mystery?
  • Why do think it is that when we are confronted with a mystery the first response is to try to explain it away?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 8, 2012 (Resurrection of our Lord)

Acts 10:34-43

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Mark 16:1-8
(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

It is interesting to note that in all four Gospels it is the women who go to the tomb of Jesus and learn of the resurrection first, not the disciples.  In our text today the women are going to the tomb of Jesus to place spices in the tomb to try to overcome the smell of death.  However, they encounter a “young man” in the tomb who tells them that Jesus has risen.  The young man then instructs the women to tell Peter and the disciples that the risen Jesus will meet them Galilee.  Who is this young man?  No one knows for sure, perhaps an angel though Mark doesn’t tell us that.  It remains a mystery.

What happens next?  The women run out of the tomb and go immediately to the disciples to tell them that Jesus has been raised from the dead, right?   No, Mark tells us that “terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  When confronted with the mystery of the resurrection of Jesus the women react with amazement, terror, perhaps some joy, maybe doubt.  In other words the women react to the mystery the same way we react to a mystery.

And that leads to another fact.  If you look at the end of the Gospel of Mark in a Bible you might see that there are three endings to the Gospel.  One is the ending at verse 8 (our text) and then there is a short ending and long ending that were added by someone in the first or second century who couldn’t accept the mystery but had to have Jesus appear to someone in order to validate the resurrection.

I must say that I like the ending of Mark.  It is a strong proclamation of the fact that the resurrection is a mystery that cannot be explained (remember no one had risen from the dead before and no one has risen from the dead since Jesus!).  The resurrection of Jesus is a mystery to be entered into by faith.  Also, the ending of Mark’s Gospel begs the questions of where do we encounter the Risen Christ today?  To quote one theologian, “the risen Jesus is simply still ‘out there somewhere.’”

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think about the ending of Mark’s Gospel?  What do think Mark is trying to say to us by this ending?
  • How do you feel about the reaction of the women?  They went out expecting the status quo…a dead body, but encountered an empty tomb.  How would you react?
  • How does the risen Christ come to us today?  (Hint to those who are Lutheran that Word and Sacrament should be among your answers!)

Activity Suggestions

There will be some in your church or faith community who will not be able to attend Easter services.  Have your group purchase some Easter cards and send Easter blessings and the Good News that Christ is Risen to the shut-ins, those who are hospitalized or in the military, those in prison or treatment centers and others who you know cannot be there for the Easter celebration.

Closing Prayer

Risen Christ, we give you thanks that by your resurrection the power of sin, death and evil has been defeat and that out of sheer mercy and love you grant that victory to us.  We thank you also that the risen Christ is present to all generations to strengthen us and grant us the courage to serve you and our neighbor.  May our Easter worship and celebrations be worthy of the incredibly good news:  Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed!  Amen.

“Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in spring-time.” ~Martin Luther