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October 28-November 4, 2009 – Signs of the times

Contributed by Pastor Seth Moland-Kovash
All Saints Lutheran Church
Palatine, IL

Warm-up Question:  How easy do you find it to forgive a friend when something bad happens that is clearly their fault?

surgeons200Finding fault and placing blame are things that all people do. Somehow it just seems to make us feel better when we can place the blame for someone on someone’s shoulders. Of course, it only serves to make us feel comfortable if we can place the blame on someone else’s shoulders. There are times when placing blame isn’t just a matter of words, but of serious consequences: sometimes thousands or millions of dollars, or other punishments.

One way that this happens is through medical malpractice lawsuits. A doctor or hospital can be sued for malpractice if a mistake is made in treating a patient or something is overlooked that should have been seen or treated.

One current proposal that is part of the debate on the healthcare system as a whole is to limit the amount of money that could be awarded to patients or families in malpractice cases. Called “tort reform,” one proposal would limit the amount of money that people could win to $500,000 for punitive damages and $250,000 for “pain and suffering.” The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this change would save the government $54 billion over the next 10 years.

Some say that the legal awards need to be limited to be reasonable and to cut the costs that doctors have to pay for malpractice insurance. Others say that there is no amount of money that should be considered too great for the family of someone who has died because of malpractice. 

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think? Should there be a limit on the amount of money that a doctor or hospital would have to pay in a malpractice case?
  2. If someone you loved died because of a clear case of malpractice, how much money do you think would be a fair punishment?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 1, 2009 (All Saints Day).

(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

Lazarus was dead. He was dead and buried and in the tomb. Jesus was late. The emergency message had been sent, but Jesus wasn’t there at the right time. Mary (Lazarus’ sister) said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” What do you think that she felt Jesus could have done? Whether she was right or not, she felt that Lazarus would not have died if Jesus had gotten there in time. Perhaps there was a hint of blame in her statement.

Where is God when it hurts? Why doesn’t God seem to be around to help me now like he helped all those people in the Bible? These are common questions that come to our minds when something bad happens. We want to know where God was and why God let that thing happen. In this story, we see that people even during the Bible times had the same experiences. Mary wanted to know why Jesus hadn’t gotten there in time. She wanted to know why this bad thing had to happen to her family. She was in pain.

And Jesus had healing for her pain. It wasn’t like anything she could have imagined. She imagined that, if Jesus had been able to get there before Lazarus died, then Jesus could have healed him. But once he was dead, Mary thought that was the end of the story.

Today, on All Saints Sunday, we remember again that death is not the end of the story for any of God’s saints. Your grandmothers and grandfathers, any of God’s children who have died, are alive again. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Nothing can separate us from God’s love; not even death (Romans 8:37-39).

Discussion Questions

  1. Tell about a time you were in pain and wondered whether God was even there.
  2. Have you seen signs that God is there in painful times? What do those signs look like? (Hint: Look at the other people in the room… they may be the signs for you)

Activity Suggestion

Create an “All Saints” remembrance with your youth group. Bring a memento or photo that makes you think of someone who has died. Tell your friends about that person. Say, “I am thankful to God for ________ because __________.”

Closing Prayer

Good and gracious God, we thank you for all the saints you have given us who have shown us your love and your mercy. Help us to continue to live as your faithful children until the day when we are reunited with all your saints. Amen.

(Or use the prayer for the “Rememberance of the faithful departed” found on page 82 of Evangelical Lutheran Worship.)

November 26-December 3, 2008 – The bones of St. Andrew on tour

Warm-up Question: How do you want to be buried when you die?

Some of the human remains of Saint Andrew the Apostle, also named “the First-Called,” were brought to Riga, Latvia on October, 24th from Odessa under police escort. The bones of St. Andrew are priceless relics considered to be holy by the Orthodox Church (as well as the Roman Catholic Church).

The relics, housed or kept in what is called a reliquary, were on display in the Cathedral of Riga for only four days. Faithful Orthodox Christians from as far as hundreds of miles away made the journey in order to be near the bones of this venerated saint. Saint Andrew is considered by the Orthodox Church to be the apostle who brought the Christian faith to Russia and then further to the Baltic States. Saint Andrew is seen as the founding apostle for Orthodox Christianity (the Eastern Church) just as St. Peter serves that role for Roman Catholic Christianity (the Western Church).*

The relics of St. Andrew from Odessa represent only some of his earthly remains. His skull, for example, is kept in the cathedral in Patras, Greece, where it was returned in 1967 after having been removed in the year 1460. Some of the remains of St. Andrew were taken to Scotland where he was adopted as the patron saint of Scotland.

*Note: The Lutheran Church has its direct roots in the “Western Church.”

Discussion Questions

  • How many saints can the group name?
  • Where have you ever seen a painting or sculpture of a saint?
  • When have you ever seen a relic of a saint?
  • Would you go to a church where you knew there were going to be bones of a saint on display (even if they are in a box of some sort)? Why?

Information on Lutheran-Orthodox relations

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 30, 2008 (lessons for the Festival of the Apostle Andrew).
(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 A at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Andrew the Apostle, or as he is called in the Orthodox Church, Andrew-the First Called. He is called that because that’s what he was: the first disciple called by Jesus, as we see from this lesson in the Gospel of John. And, no sooner than he had been asked to follow Jesus, he went and got his brother Peter to check this Jesus of Nazareth out, “we have seen the Messiah!” That’s certainly good news. Before Andrew even spends a few years following Jesus around, he is calling others to “come and see,” to come and experience this Jesus. Those first disciples spent lots of time and energy sharing with others the good news about Jesus the Messiah (the Anointed One, which is what the word “Christ” means).

The early Christian communities that got to experience those first real, living apostles were so blessed. They got to hear the story first hand from eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ. They felt so blessed by having these faithful witnesses among them that they cherished and respected everything about them: the scripture they may have used, the bishop’s staff they might have had, the chair they sat in to teach or preach, maybe even their clothes, and certainly their earthly remains — bones.

The bones of these holy followers of Christ were kept and guarded just as we respect our own beloved dead. The communities they served believed that these faithful witnesses were a living example of Christ among them. They felt close to Christ because of their presence. They believed that it was still true even after they died. That’s why the things and the remains of these holy men and women became so important for the early Church (we’re talking already in the 1st and 2nd centuries.)

This idea of holding sacred the remains of the saints (apostles, martyrs, teachers of the Church, etc.) is still practiced today in the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches, among others. During the time of the Reformation, visiting, touching, and praying in the presence of relics of the saints was believed to help knock off time in purgatory (which is like a kind of pre-heaven cleaning place with lots of pain and torture to get all the sins worked out before going to heaven). And because that practice got really corrupt in the years before Martin Luther was born, he had some reasons to critique it. And, he did — a lot!

Those of us in the Lutheran or Protestant traditions have been very strongly influenced and taught to see relics of the saints as bad things. We think about how they were abused in the middle ages to make money off of poor faithful Christians. And, many Christians were spending a lot of time praying to various deceased saints asking them to talk to God on their behalf.

Martin Luther and his reforms emphasized the fact that we do not need anyone else to speak on our behalf aside from Jesus Christ. The saints are there to serve as good examples and to inspire us and strengthen us in our faith in God through Jesus Christ. So, it is a good thing to know and tell the stories of the saints so that we are strengthened to be able to tell the great story of God’s love in Jesus.

Here are some details of the story that is told about Saint Andrew:

  • Andrew began his missionary activity in modern day Greece and Turkey. He then moved on further North into the area of Ukraine and Russia. He is known as the apostle to bring the Christian faith to those areas of the world.
  • His very recognizable symbol is an X-shaped cross. It is known as the St. Andrew’s cross because Andrew was crucified upside down on a cross made in that shape. It was believed that the X-shaped cross made dying last longer and more painful.
  • For a more detailed version of Andrew:
  • November 30th is the day on which St. Andrew the Apostle is commemorated in Churches all around the world.

Discussion Questions

  • What things, symbols, art, or music remind you to trust in God, stay strong in your faith, and tell others the good news of Jesus Christ?
  • Who in your life right now — even if they don’t know it — helps you stay strong in your faith and encourages you to live a life that reflects your faith? It can also be someone who is no longer alive.

Activity Suggestions

  • Leave nothing unsaid
    Send a post card, letter, or email to the person who inspires and encourages your faith. Let them know that they are a witness to you and others, and that you thank God for them.
  • Saints online
    Post photos or video clips on your congregation’s youth Web site (if you have one) or your Facebook page of the people who have been saints and witnesses of faith in your life. Do it as a way of honoring and thanking them, as well as spreading their story and witness.

Closing Prayer
(Prayer for the Festival of Apostle Andrew. Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 54.)

Almighty God, you gave your apostle Andrew the grace to obey the call of your Son and to bring his brother to Jesus. Give us also, who are called by your holy word, grace to follow Jesus without delay and to bring into his presence those who are near to us, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Contributed by Pastor Scott A. Moore
Eisleben, Germany