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September 14-20, 2011–It’s Not Fair–Thank God

Contributed by Jen Krausz, Bethlehem, PA



Warm-up Question

When would you rather be last at something, rather than first?

It’s Not Fair–Thank God

My father-in-law passed away over the summer. He was only 63, and our family was not ready for a leaky heart valve which led to a lengthy hospital stay, followed by strokes which left him comatose and unable to respond.

But in the weeks before the strokes, while he sat in the hospital waiting for his kidney function to stabilize, an amazing thing happened. His heart toward God changed.

A previous church had judged his family for the behavior of another family member instead of offering help or support. This unchrist-like behavior had turned him off to churches—we thought, for good. He was a loving father, grandfather and husband. He helped many people and treated others better than they deserved in many cases. He just didn’t want to get involved with churches anymore, and held God at a distance because of the way God’s people had treated him.

But when he landed in the hospital, he started talking to our pastor. People from church, many of whom he did not know, called and visited. They became the hands and feet of God to him, and he began to see, through this caring and through talks with the pastor, that God loved him. He expressed his wishes to join the church when he recovered, not knowing that the expected recovery would not take place.

At his funeral, the pastor was able to share this story of a man who discovered God’s love and salvation at the end of his life. What an inspiration to those who heard that story!

 Discussion Questions

  • Do you know anyone who is “turned off” to church because of a bad experience? What do you think might change someone’s mind once they’ve had an experience like this?
  • What can churches do to minister to people who have been mistreated in the past?
  • Do you think it matters to God whether someone comes to faith early in life or at the end of their earthly life? Why or why not?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, September 18, 2011 (Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

Jonah 3:10-4:11

Philippians 1:21-30

Matthew 20:1-16

(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

Wouldn’t it be great to work one hour and get paid the same as people who have worked an entire day? Absolutely, it would. However, would you like to be the person who worked all day and had to watch someone who only worked an hour get paid the same as you? Not likely.

Unfortunately, people who have followed Christ for many years can take the same attitude as these day-long laborers did in this week’s scriptures. According to these verses and others (such as Jesus’ promise to the thief on the cross that he would be with Jesus in Paradise on that same day), those who come to Christ at the end of their lives are promised the same reward: eternity with God in heaven.

Is that fair? Well, Jesus cautions, we may not want to be so focused on what’s fair. After all, let’s consider that Jesus’ payment on the cross for our sins wasn’t fair to him, was it? If things were really fair, we would all be in trouble! This parable reminds us that God is in charge, and it’s up to God to decide what happens to people. If God decides to give people every opportunity to find faith and salvation, even with their dying breaths (and it seems that God has), what is that to us?

I would add that there are many blessings in following Christ here on earth, so even grumbling about fairness is not really justified. In God’s economy, glorifying God also benefits us in many ways. Go figure!

I don’t know if you grew up like I did, hearing my parents use verse 16 of this scripture as a life lesson. Whenever my sister and I clamored to be the first to get or do anything, we heard, “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” And although we got tired of hearing these words, they were a good reminder that being first is not necessarily best in God’s eyes. God takes everything into account; even the last and least are important to God, and they should be important to God’s followers as well.

Discussion Questions

  •  Do you consider yourself to be a long-time follower of Christ or a new believer—or someone who is still seeking faith?
  • If you consider yourself a long-time follower, how do you feel about those who come to faith at the very end of their lives?
  • What special opportunities belong to those who are last (think about being last in line, last to do something)?
  • Does your view of what’s fair change when you consider that no person deserves salvation or even God’s love?

Activity Suggestions

As a group or individually, commit to visiting at least one person who is in the hospital. It could be a church member, or a non-member that someone in the class knows. The purpose of the visit is not to evangelize, but to show love and concern. Pray out loud for the hospitalized person during the visit (ask first to make sure they are open to it).

Brainstorm other ideas for how to show God’s love to others in a non-judgmental way. There are many ways for students to do this in their daily lives—sitting with someone at the lunch table who normally sits alone, offering to help carry an injured student’s books, helping a struggling student with homework, treating brothers and sisters the way they would want to be treated, etc. It is so sad that so many people miss out on church (and God) because they have not experienced the love of God’s people! We as a church need to make sure we are reversing this trend, not reinforcing it.

Closing Prayer

Holy God, you can do anything in this world, but you choose to work through flawed people. Give us strength and willingness to be your hands and feet to the people around us, especially those who are hurting and need your love. Thank you for being unfair to us and forgiving our sins when we didn’t deserve it. In Jesus’name, Amen.

December 1-7, 2010–Repentant or Just Caught

Contributed by Jose Valenzuela, Phoenix, AZ

Warm-up Question

When you  say you are sorry about something, is it generally because you are truly sorry or because you got caught?

Repentant–or Just Caught

Charles Rangel is an 80 year old Representative from the state of New York.  During a recent ethics investigation he was found by a group of his peers to have acted inappropriately related to the raising of funds for a public policy center that is being named after him. In a report that was sent out on his website for his reelection, he announced that there is “no excuse for his acts of omission” and that he apologized for the embarrassment he brought to his constituents.

At the same time, Representative Rangel said that he has done nothing wrong and he maintains his innocence. In this time of heightened political fervor, politicians have the difficult task of  admitting wrongdoing while, at the same time, maintaining that they have done nothing wrong.  In the constant battle to remain in office, the dance of accepting responsibility yet admitting nothing seems to be an appropriate strategy.

Discussion Questions

  • What does it mean to apologize?
  • When a person apologizes are they repenting?
  • The word repent means to “turn around”.  If we accept responsibility for something we did wrong, how should our actions change?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December 5, 2010 (Second Sunday of Advent)

Isaiah 11:1-10

Romans 15:4-13

Matthew 3:1-12

(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

632.  That is the number of rules that the Jewish community of Jesus had to live by in order to be considered “good” by standards of the law.  In the times of Jesus it was the job of the Pharisees and the Sadducees to enforce the laws and ensure that everyone followed the rules.

During the early part of his ministry John the Baptist was out preaching and teaching and inviting people to come and be baptized.  As a part of their baptism, people were asked to repent for the wrongs that they had done in their lives.  It is interesting that some of the people who were repenting and asking to be baptized were the same people who held the community responsible for breaking the laws.

Isn’t it ironic that the same people who punished others for knowingly or unknowingly breaking a rule were asking for forgiveness?  John’s reaction to this was to lift up the double standard by which people were living in at the time.  How could persons seek forgiveness when they were not able to forgive others in the midst of the current laws?  The kingdom that John the Baptist was talking about was one that allowed the people who broke the laws to live in relationship with God in spite of the laws.

The heart of Jesus’ ministry was proclaiming that purely human laws were no longer applicable and forgiveness was at hand.  The key to forgiveness is to repent for wrong you have committed and have faith that God will forgive you.  For many the trick is to truly repent.  God knows what is in our hearts.  When we are truly sorry for thinking of ourselves and putting God second, forgiveness is at hand.  No one is denied.  Repentance and faith are all that is needed to remain in relationship with God.

Discussion Questions

  • Is there any sin that God cannot forgive?
  • If God is able to forgive you, how difficult is it to forgive ourselves?
  • By accepting God’s forgiveness can we forgive others?

Activity Suggestion

Share a time when you were forgiven for something and how in turn you were able to forgive others.

Closing Prayer

Gracious God, you know what is in our hearts.  Some of it isn’t good, but we offer this all to you.  Take us and use us to your glory.  Open our hearts and minds to see and feel you at work in our lives.  Amen.

March 10-16, 2010

Contributed by Joycelyn Breeland, Fairfax, VA.




Warm-up Question

How much do the adults in your life trust you?

I Spy


The FBI is investigating the claim of 16-year-old Blake Robbins that his high school illegally spied on him using the webcam in his school-issued computer.

Robbins says his school’s assistant principal accused him of selling drugs and popping pills in his bedroom. He says she backed up the accusation with a photograph taken by the laptop’s built-in webcam.  Blake denies dealing or using illicit drugs.  He says the images show him eating candy. 

The Lower Merion School District issued laptop computers, equipped with webcams, to all of the approximately 2,300 high school students in the district.  School officials deny any wrong doing.  They say they are not spying on students and only activate the webcams to help locate missing laptops.


Discussion Questions

  • Is it OK for the school district to use webcams to locate school property?
  • Why would it be a problem for the school to activate the webcams on laptops they own?
  • Does it matter how the school got the evidence if Robbins was engaged in illegal activity?


Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, March 14, 2010 (Fourth Sunday in Lent)

(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.

Joshua 5:9-12

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Gospel Reflection

Today’s Gospel is a well-known story. The generous father reminds us that God’s love is extravagant to the point of seeming  reckless.  We go astray.  But no matter how far we go, how unworthy our behavior, God longs to welcome us back into the fold. 

The waiting father models how we are called to behave toward each other.  We pray, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” but our forgiveness is often grudging.  In contrast, the father clearly yearns to welcome his son back home.  He sees the boy while he is far away and runs to him.  The son can not even get out his well-rehearsed apology before the party is on.  Following the father’s example, we strive to forgive absolutely, rejoicing at the restoration of a relationship with someone who has wronged us. 

Sometimes we are like the younger son, striking out on our own, overly confident in our abilities.  We forget how much we need the father.  This inevitably leads to trouble.  When that happens, we, like the prodigal, need to remember that our father is merciful and compassionate.  No matter how far we go down destructive paths, we can find our way home.  Mistakes are painful and costly.  Our poor decisions cause a lot of suffering. The certainty of God’s care is no excuse for failing to weigh our choices carefully.  Still, when we find ourselves staring at a dead end, Jesus reminds us that the long journey we begin with repentance in the pig sty ends with a welcome, a ring, and a fatted calf.

Discussion Questions

  • If the father in the story represents God, what is the inheritance we might each expect? 
  • The family in today’s Gospel is clearly wealthy.  What could have motivated the son to leave this comfort in the first place? 
  • Verse 17 says the younger son came to his senses.  What does this mean?  Has this happened to you? 
  • Can you identify with the older son’s reaction in verses 28 ­– 30? 
  • What does the father’s answer to his older son say to us about God’s love?

 Activity Suggestion

Design a t-shirt which communicates your understanding of this week’s lesson.  Think beyond simply picturing a scene from the biblical story.  Use words and graphics which would grab the attention of folks in your school.

Closing Prayer

Loving and forgiving Father God, we thank you for the rich inheritance you offer each of us.  Help us not to squander your gifts, remembering that all we have and are comes from you.  Call to us when we stray and bring us quickly back to our senses.  In the name of Jesus, whose sacrifice has secured for us eternal life and a home with you, Amen.


December 9-16, 2009–Doom Looms for Shishmaref, Alaska

 contributed by Steven Alloway

 Warm-up Question

 Have you ever had to prepare for an important event or occurrence in your life? What was it? How did you prepare? Was it a good event, or a bad one?


Doom Looms for Shishmaref, Alaska


 eskimo houseA warming climate is having adverse effects on the Eskimo village of Shishmaref, Alaska. As the ice melts gradually earlier in the spring and forms later in the fall, the coast is beginning to erode—and the houses built along it are in danger of falling into the sea. One house has succumbed to the erosion already and thirteen more have been moved inland to protect them from meeting the same fate. Only one house remains—that of Shelton and Clara Koreok, only feet from the edge. Shelton refuses to move, no matter what the danger, because he fears that moving would mean losing everything he knows.

 “This is my hometown,” said Shelton. “I don’t want to go anywhere.”



Discussion Questions

  1. Besides the looming danger for their houses, in what other ways do you think this coastal erosion will affect the people of Shishmaref?
  2. What do you think the people should do about this crisis? Should they try to prevent further erosion? Carry on in spite of it and find ways of dealing with it? Pack up and leave Shishmaref altogether?
  3. What do you think of Shelton Koreok’s decision not to move his house inland? What do you suppose he’ll do if his house falls into the sea?


Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December 13,2009 (Third Sunday 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 C at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Phillipians 4:4-7

Luke 3:7-8


Gospel Reflection

 We’re in the advent season now: the time of preparation for the coming of Jesus. But what does that preparation entail? Reading the Christmas story in our Bibles? Singing “Silent Night” with friends and family? Putting a manger scene under the tree?

 Well, according to John the Baptizer, there’s quite a bit more to it than that. John came to prepare the way of the Lord, to get the people of Israel ready for his coming. But he didn’t do it by giving them images of a baby in a manger, surrounded by cherubic angels and a blandly serene Virgin Mary. The preparation he spoke of was for an impending doom. He spoke of unquenchable fire. He called his hearers vipers. He told them to expect wrath and an ax poised to cut them down. Far from the traditional Christmas message. But a necessary message for understanding the coming of Christ.

 Jesus came to save us from our sins. So in order to prepare for his coming, we need to think about what sin is and what it means. Sin means condemnation. Sin means unquenchable fire and wrath. In order to be saved, we must recognize our  need for salvation. We must be convicted of our sins and realize that the consequences are death and destruction. We are standing on an eroding coast, and if we stay there, we will surely fall into the sea.

 But Jesus offers to lead us to safety. He can take us away from the impending doom, and give us a new life with him. But we cannot be saved until we first understand that staying where we are means death, and going with Christ means life. Otherwise, we’re like Shelton Koreok: refusing to leave for fear of losing everything—when really, we lose everything only if we stay where we are.

 That’s what repentance is: turning around. We turn from the sinful path we’re on, and instead follow Christ. Jesus came to set us free. His human birth was only the first step. He then lived a human life, and died a human death, just as we do, so that he could save us from the unquenchable fire. Jesus came with a fire of his own: the fire of the Holy Spirit. A fire of life, rather than a fire of death. When we repent of our sins, we are baptized with fire, and the Holy Spirit lives in us. And when the Spirit lives and burns within us, we are able to bear fruits worthy of repentance. But we can only do it if we turn around.


Discussion Questions

  1. John provides some suggestions for bearing fruit worthy of repentance (share with those who have nothing, be fair with money). What are some other ways that we can bear fruit worthy of repentance in our own lives?
  2. Even in the face of doom, why do you think some people are reluctant to repent and turn to Christ? What do you think they’re afraid of losing?
  3. How can we help others this Christmas season to understand what it means to prepare for the coming of Christ?


Suggested Activity:

 Sing, “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” Go through the lyrics one at a time, and talk about what they mean in terms of Christ’s saving us from sin and death.


Closing Prayer:

Lord Jesus, thank you for your saving grace. Thank you for the freedom we have from sin, and our new life with you. As we remember your first coming, prepare our hearts for your Second Coming. Amen

December 2-9, 2009 – Preparing a Way for Spirit

Contributed by Scott A. Moore


Warm-up Question

When have you ever helped someone who was “stuck?”


Preparing a Way for Spirit


rover_low_angle_200The National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) along with Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL) and some partners from other countries around the world have been working diligently to find a way out for a stuck Mars rover named Spirit. Spirit has been stuck for over six months now in an area where the ground is made up of very fine, soft sand. The six wheels (one of them has not been working properly for quite a while now) cannot seem to get the traction needed to move forward in any significant way. NASA is not giving up on Spirit, which along with its twin, Opportunity, has continued to function well for five years longer than the originally planned mission of three months. Teams here on earth are working with sample rovers in artificially created environments trying to recreate the actual conditions in order to find the perfect solution…to find a way out. Some of the attempts range from trying various wheel directions and speeds, to having Spirit try to dig itself out with its robotic arms. Just before the Thanksgiving Day weekend, Spirit was commanded to move its wheels forward. NASA indicated that the rover completed a spin which should have equaled a total of 13 feet. The rover actually only moved 0.2 inches forward, 0.1 inches to the left, and 0.1 inches further down into the sand.

To follow the story

  • Is it worth the time and effort for NASA to get Spirit unstuck?
  • When should someone call it quits and move on?
  • Have you ever wanted to help someone else get “unstuck?” If you tried to do something, how did that go?
  • What kinds of situations frustrate you the most?
  • When have you been “stuck” in a situation where someone else kept trying to help you?
  • Where in your life, in your congregation’s life, could you use a little “push” to move forward?
  • Who are the people in your life, who are usually able to help you move forward?
  • How are they able to help you best?


Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December 6, 2009 (Second Sunday 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 C at Lectionary Readings.)

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


Gospel Reflection

In the sandy Judean desert, a voice communicates a message of action. The word of God comes to John, son of Zechariah and cousin of a man named Jesus of Nazareth. John is called to go and preach a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” The voice of the prophet Isaiah is quoted as the guiding principle of what John is doing. He is preparing the way of the Lord. He is making the Lord’s paths straight. Valleys filled, mountains and hills brought low. Crooked made straight and rough made smooth. He is eliminating every possible barrier between the Lord and the world. 

 A “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” This seems to be the method to remove every barrier. Repentance seems to be the manner of preparing the way of the Lord. Repentance often sounds to us like simply saying sorry. There is certainly an emotional part to repentance but it is much, much more than that. Repentance in the New Testament is based on a word which means “to change one’s mind.” Repentance is seeing things in a new way, turning towards that new way, and living in that new way.  John’s baptism of repentance is a calling, and a gift of God. It is a call to be washed and set on a new path. It is a call to conversion. This call to repentance is a setting of our thoughts and actions in the Lord’s direction. Not only are we to be turned toward him, but we are to be turned to face the same direction our Lord faces.

Repentance means having our minds turned away from ourselves and our often selfish ways and to be shaped by God’s mind. It is seeing the world with God’s eyes. Perceiving and acting in love for the world and for our neighbor.

Being turned in repentance seems like an easy task. John called for a once and for all repentance. Our reality is often much different than that. We are often called by the voice of God to turn in the right direction, but find ourselves stuck and only able to move in tiny increments.  Or, we try so hard to turn ourselves that we overshoot our goal. God is very patient with us. Again and again God calls us to the way. A way of love, a way of sacrifice, a way of Christ.

Our repentance—never perfect, and never permanent—locates us in the central drama of Advent:  preparing the way of the Lord. In the world, and in our real lives. To that we can only say—“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

  • What does God’s “way” look like?
  • When are you most comfortable living in that “way?”
  • When have you had real difficulties seeing things with a godly mind?
  • When have you been successful at getting temporarily unstuck?
  • What helps you in your own “changing of your mind” or repentance?
  • What makes it difficult for you?
  • Who helps you to repent?



Preparing the Way of the Lord for Others
Here is a list of ideas your group might try in order to prepare the way of the Lord for others:

  1. Write and deliver invitations for Christmas worship to people you know are not part of a faith community.
  2. Think about the things in your congregational community which might create barriers between the world and the Lord.  Take some action to “smooth” them out!
  3. How can you visually help members of your congregation to prepare as they come to worship (sidewalk chalk sayings/Bible verses that address people as they come to church, posters and signs that do the same thing, maybe even a play on various traffic signs: one way, yield, stop…around various locations in church like the baptismal font, altar, pulpit, etc.)?
  4. Can your group serve as the greeters in worship, helping worshipers “get ready?”
  5. Could you literally “roll out the red carpet” (a saying which communicates a generous and honor-filled welcome) in your worship space, or outside your church as a symbol of the way we walk toward God.  Or, roll it out from worship into the world?


Preparing the Way of the Lord for Ourselves
Perhaps your group could write some prayers for yourselves and for other individuals in the congregation to pray at home as a preparation for worship. These could be thematic, scriptural, or guided by the church year. See Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) and Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW) for examples.


Closing Prayer

God of mercy, God of strength. We have so often walked a different path than the one you want us to walk. We need your guidance. Turn our minds to be like yours. Guide our steps. Lead us by your grace. We pray in our Lord Jesus’ name. Amen