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April 27-May 3, 2011–Mythbusters

Contributed by Bill King, Blacksburg, VA


Share a time when you were absolutely certain something was true—only to discover that it was not.


Courtesy of Mythbusters

Can you beat a lie detector test?  Is a dirty car more fuel efficient than a clean one?  Do jawbreakers explode when you put them in a microwave?  Is it possible for baby alligators flushed down the toilet to prowl the sewers of New York City?  Can you save lost data on a hard drive by putting it in the freezer?  If you have an itch to answer any of these questions then you have probably discovered Mythbusters, the popular show on the Discovery Channel.  Nominated for an Emmy and hosted by the jauntily bereted Jamie Hyneman and “stuff maker” Adam Savage, Mythbusters scientifically tests urban myths, outrageous propositions, and conventional wisdom.  The show has a particular fondness for myths which involve explosions, making a mess, or disgusting materials (they made a candle out of ear wax).  Some have called it “the best science show on television,” and few would dispute that it is the zaniest.  The show sometimes does silly things, like constructing a lead balloon, just to see if it can be done.  But beneath the laughter is a serious purpose, to illustrate how science separates fact from fiction.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you always trust science to determine what is true and what is false?
  • There is strong  consensus among scientists that climate change is occurring (though less agreement on the role which human interaction plays), yet some polls suggest that 50 per cent or more of Americans doubt that consensus.  What factors other than science affect how we believe and act?
  • Do you believe science is the best or only path to truth?  What are its limits?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 1, 2011 (Second Sunday of Easter)

Acts 2:14a, 22-32

1 Peter 1:3-9

John 20:19-31

(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

Thomas usually gets a raw deal.  Don’t believe it?  Play a little game with me. Fill in the blank:   _______ Thomas.  You plugged in “doubting” didn’t you?  For almost 2000 years Thomas has been the poster boy for skepticism, the guy who brought a dill pickle and a soggy blanket to the post-resurrection picnic.  Everyone else was happy to see Jesus, excited to imagine what might be coming next.  We remember Thomas as the one who refused to join the celebration—or even believe his buddies.  If he didn’t see it, he wasn’t buying it.

Maybe we need to rethink our view of Thomas.  Rather than the poster child of cynical skepticism, perhaps he’s the brutally honest spokesman of wounded and searching young adults.  It’s not that Thomas is any less eager to believe than the rest of the disciples; he just isn’t willing to give his passion for a pocket full of promises which prove false when put to the test.  He’s seen the corruption of the religious and political establishment, the way they manipulate people and their prejudices in the name of noble sounding piety and patriotism.  He’s seen the cruelty the rich and powerful inflict on Him whose only crime is proclaiming God’s love.  Most of all, he’s seen his hopes dashed on Good Friday.  In the words of the of the classic rock anthem, he “won’t get fooled again.”

There is much to love about Thomas.  When Jesus returned to raise Lazarus from the tomb, Thomas told the disciples their place was with Jesus, even if it meant death. It was Thomas who admitted that he did not know where Jesus was going (John 14:3-6) and therefore could not follow—never afraid to look dumb if it meant learning more.  Not easily persuaded, but loyal to a fault when he finally makes a decision; yes, there is much to admire in Thomas.

Evidently John the Evangelist thinks so too.  He gives this supposed doubter the most sweeping confession of faith in his gospel, “My Lord and my God.”  Too often we can make people who are asking hard questions feel as though there is something wrong with them, implying that if they just believe hard enough and sing the happy choruses with enough gusto, all the doubts and all the awkward questions will just go away.  That’s unfortunate because Scripture most assuredly does not agree.  Jesus treats this hard-eyed realist with gentleness and concern.  I imagine Jesus looking at Thomas and thinking, “Oak isn’t easy to cut and form, but once you do, you know you’ve got something that’ll last  for the long haul.”  Thomas reminds us that mature faith is hard won, but always worth struggling for because it leads us to the one who says, “Do not be faithless but believing.”

Discussion Questions

  • Do you identify with Thomas?  How?
  • What is the greatest doubt you feel regarding your religious faith?
  • Why do you think John includes the post-resurrection story of Thomas in his gospel?

Activity Suggestion

Everything You Wanted to Know About God—But Were Afraid to Ask:  Invite everyone in the group to write down one or more questions related to religious faith and practice.  These can range from questions of idle curiosity to ones of deep concern.  Put them all in a box.  When they are all assembled you can use them in several ways; pick the one (or combination) that works best for you:

  • Invite the pastor or youth leader to respond to the questions.  This is particularly appropriate if the answer requires some research or technical knowledge.
  • Pull out a question and use it as a conversation starter.  Particularly with questions which have no easy answer it is important to affirm the questioning process, in addition to bringing some of the tradition’s resources to bear in forming a response.

Closing Prayer

God of truth and compassion, in Jesus you dealt gently with those who sincerely sought to follow you.  In the midst of our doubts give us your light, in the midst of our fears, give us courage.  When we struggle to believe, draw near and help us remember we are your own, beloved heirs of your resurrection.  Amen.


April 6-12, 2011–Unspoken Question

Contributed by Bob Chell, University Lutheran Center, Brookings, SD

Warm-up Question

If God is in all places, at all times, how can God stand by while bad things happen?

Unspoken Questions

In 1862 the largest mass hanging in United States history occurred in Mankato, Minnesota. Thirty- eight Dakota men of the Santee nation were executed for taking part in what has been called “Little Crow’s War.”

The Dakota people were promised much but received little in payment for the land taken from them by the U.S. government. Unscrupulous traders and dishonest agents stole food and annuity payments until hunger and hardship drove the Santee to send out a hunting party of four in mid-August. The hunting party encountered white settlers and five settlers died. Things spun out of control and, after order was restored, President Abraham Lincoln ordered the hanging of 38 Santee men.

Jim Miller had a dream. Jim is a member of the Santee Nation. In 2008 he organized what has become an annual trek on horseback from the Crow Creek reservation of South Dakota to the riverbank where the executions took place, a distance of 330 miles.  Jim’s dream was not simply to make the trek, but to bring healing and reconciliation. The ride was commemorated in the film, Dakota 38 Engaging History.

Discussion Questions

  • Does God take an active role in the world?
  • To what degree are greedy Indian agents from the 1850s responsible for widespread poverty on reservations today?
  • Many children of divorced families struggle. Who is to blame?
  • Are retribution and reconciliation compatible?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 10, 2011 (Fifth Sunday in Lent)

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Romans 8:6-11

John 11:1-45

(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 a campus pastor, people come to me with hard questions, questions with no easy answers.  I get a call in the middle of the night asking, “If a person commits suicide, do they go to hell?” I’m pretty sure this is more than a disinterested quest for information.  So I want to know if the caller has a term paper due at 8:00 a.m. or if, perhaps, their fiancé broke off their engagement earlier in the evening.  The asked question is theological; the unspoken one is personal.  The first is about God, the second about the person’s deepest pain.

We can ponder the source of monstrously evil people and events in the world. Think Hitler and Holocaust.  We can probe for an explanation of great tragedy arising from nature. Think earthquake and tsunami.  These are theological questions.  Martha says to Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died,” and the unspoken question is, “Why weren’t you here when I needed you most?”   That question comes to our hearts and lips when death darkens our house, when our parent’s divorce, when the person we love does not return our affection. It is a profoundly personal question.  We can discuss the former questions but often only sit in silence in the face of the latter.

I hesitated writing the last of the above discussion questions, knowing that for some it is a deeply personal question.  I kept it because the gospel is deeply personal.  Jesus didn’t come to tell bad people to be good people or to explain away deep, unrelenting pain with soothing words. Jesus did proclaim God’s promises to Martha.  Jesus did raise her brother Lazarus that day but Jesus response first response on seeing the body of his friend was to weep.  Many have memorized John 11:35 because it is the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.”   I contend it is among the most profound. It reminds us that Jesus stands with us in our pain, not over us in judgment when our lives are in turmoil.

Where is Jesus when my parent’s divorce, when a young Native American girl takes her own life, when thousands die in a tsunami or at the hand of evil tyrants? Jesus is there; weeping, standing with all in their deepest pain, their sharpest grief, their greatest regret.

Discussion Questions

  • Can you identify a time in your life when you felt abandoned by God? Looking back, was God with you? If so, how was God present?
  • When your pain has been deep and unrelenting, which words were helpful? Hurtful?
  • Can a person be close to God and far away from God at the same time?
  • Is trusting God different than believing in God?

Activity Suggestion

Make a timeline of your faith history:   Draw a line horizontally in the middle of a sheet of paper and label it with significant events in your life; your birth on one end and today on the other. Write joys and sorrows as they happened; great joys high on the page and deep sorrows near the bottom.  Connect them and you’ll see how your life has ups and downs. Now place a G when your faith was greatest, an A where your faith was absent, and an O where you weren’t thinking about God at all. Connect them and you’ll see the ups and downs of your faith journey.

Share with one other person your greatest joy and your deepest sorrow. Do the ways you felt about God’s presence at those times coincide with what you believe about God’s presence at those times now that you look back?

Closing Prayer

God, you know our deep pain, our secret shames, and the unrelenting pain which threatens us to make us despair. Help us to feel your presence in our hearts and not just in our heads. Give us confidence in your promises, so that we will trust you and cling to your promises when doubt gnaws at our faith.  Amen.