Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

Faith Lens

April 20, 2014–Quakes of Fear and Joy

Contributed by Bryan Jaster, Winchester, VA


Warm-up Question

Have you ever been in an earthquake?  Where were you and what happened?

Quakes of Fear and Joy

On April 1st, 2014, an 8.2 magnitude earthquake off the coast shook Chile.  The next day a 7.6 magnitude struck the region.  Landslides, power outages, collapsed buildings, and people fleeing homes resulted.   Tsunami warnings sprang up and first responders were on high alert.

Almost one million people were evacuated.  About 300 prisoners escaped from a prison in Iquique, a northern port city in Chile.  Traffic clogged the many of northern Chile’s streets.  Fear spread as people remembered an 8.8 magnitude quake on February 27, 2010, which killed 500 people and triggered a building toppling tsunami.

In the hours after, a surprising, different story sprang up.  Well planned and executed evacuations saved countless lives.  Most homes and skyscrapers survived unscathed due to well followed building codes developed in response to past earthquakes.  Most of the escaped inmates turned themselves in a week after the quakes.  People have returned home thankful for life.  While the quakes struck fear, the community is now moved by joy and thanksgiving for new life.


Discussion Questions

  • If you had been in the earthquake in Chile, how do you think you would have acted?  Are you surprised the prisoners returned to jail?
  • Should Chile be afraid of future earthquakes?  What have they learned?
  • When has your fear turned into joy?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 20, 2014 (Resurrection of our Lord, Easter Sunday)

Acts 10:34-43

Colossians 3:1-4

Matthew 28:1-10

(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

Easter2014editToday is Easter.  There are flowers, bunnies, chocolate, fancy clothes and joyous songs.  Families gather; crowds worship; good food is eaten and familiar stories are told.

Let’s look more closely at the Easter story from Matthew.  It begins with an earthquake and in fear.

Fear:  The One who they thought might be the messiah may be yet another failure and is gone.

Fear:  When the angel rolled away the stone.  Read again:  “the guards shook and became like dead men.”

Fear:  It was beating in the hearts of the two women named Mary who rushed from the tomb to tell the disciples.

Fear:  When the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples.

And yet, in the Easter story with earthquakes there is joy.  

Joy:  When the women receive the message that indeed Jesus is no longer dead, but risen.

Joy:  The angel beckons the women to tell the disciples he is alive and you will see him in Galilee. They run to tell this news.

Joy: Jesus’ presence and greeting moves the disciples to worship.

Joy:  Jesus gives the disciples a new mission to go and tell.

Easter has quakes of fear and joy present together.  As much as we see the happy, bright side of Easter when we gather today, remember this: The risen Jesus brings both quakes of holy fear and joy into the world.  On this first day of a new week, hear the news that Jesus comes into the world’s quakes, inviting you to witness to resurrection in the middle of both fear and joy. 

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think the soldiers were afraid of the angel?  Why were the two women named Mary afraid?   Why were the disciples afraid?  Would you have responded as they did?  Why or why not?
  • When has your life been shaken?  How did you get through it?   Why were you afraid?  Did you find joy?
  • As you celebrate Easter, what message do you tell to others?  What does the risen Jesus want you to do?

Activity Suggestions

  • Think of a way you as a group can tell and show the Good News of Christ’s resurrection in your home or in your community.  Do it.
  • Make a plan to visit someone whose life has been filled with fear.  Bring that person food, balloons, cards, candy, tell jokes, and do whatever might bring joy.  Consider a mini parade.
  • Travel to a neighboring town.  Listen and look for ways that Jesus is alive in that community.

Closing Prayer

God of the empty tomb, help us to see you in all of life’s fears and joys.  As earthquakes come, may our fears be transformed into the joy of knowing you.  Help us to go and tell the news that you are alive in our homes, streets, schools and world.  Thank you for the death and resurrection of your Son today.  Amen.

November 4, 2012–Rumors of Death…and Life!

Contributed by Sylvia Alloway, Granada Hills, CA


Warm-up Question

Suppose you got off the plane after a long vacation and saw a headline announcing your death. Someone had started this rumor and gotten others to believe it. How would you go about proving that you are still alive?

Rumors of Death…and Life!


“I don’t even remember what a headache feels like!” So declared Fidel Castro in an article published on Cubadebate, the state news website. The purpose of the article, titled “Fidel Castro Is Dying,” was to assure the Cuban people that the old revolutionary was still alive and healthy at 86. Rumors that the former dictator had suffered a severe stroke and was barely hanging on had been swirling around in the world press for days.

Photos of Castro strolling around his farm using a metal cane, taken by a visiting Venezuelan dignitary, appeared with the article. The South American politician said he talked with the notorious Communist strongman for five hours and was then escorted to his hotel by Castro in a chauffeur-driven minibus.

Castro’s article also tore into the “imperialist propaganda” spread by the non-Communist media. The rumor was traced to a Venezuelan doctor in Miami, who claimed to have heard that the Cuban leader was near death.




Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think rumors of Castro’s death spark such interest!
  • How do rumors get started? Why do people believe them?
  • How do you personally decide what to believe and what not to believe when you hear a rumor?
  • Think about one time when you believed a rumor that wasn’t true and another time when you did not believe something and it turned out to be true. What happened? What if anything, did you learn?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 4, 2012 (All Saints Sunday)

Isaiah 25:6-9

Revelation 21:1-6

John 11:32-44

(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

Raising from the dead is a tough sell. Everyone knows that there’s no getting around death. It takes a lot of proof to convince any sane person that someone could conquer this greatest enemy of humankind.

There are always rumors, of course. Jesus raised several people from the dead, and word must have gotten around. But people were just as skeptical in those days as they are now. The person wasn’t really dead, they would say. Jesus is a fake, and intelligent people don’t put any stock in such foolishness.

But Lazarus was different. A whole crowd of people had been weeping over him for four days. Some of them probably helped to wrap the body in the grave clothes. His sister Martha was certain there would be a terrible stench if the grave was opened. Death was as ugly then as it is now. Even Jesus wept at the sight of it.

Wait, what it this? Open the grave? Call on God to hear? And what is this “Lazarus, come out”? What does this man think he’s doing?

Raising Lazarus from the dead.


There was nothing especially glorious about it. A man trying to walk while stuck in a shroud was just as scary then as it is now. And cutting him free couldn’t have been very pleasant. Yet all those repellent practicalities drove home the point. This man really was raised from the dead. Those who doubted had only to look.

Word got around and is with us today:   Jesus has power over death – Lazarus’ death, his own, and finally, ours as well. Some stand and say, “Prove it!” Some sit and say, “Forget it.” Some turn away and say, “It’s just a rumor.” And some fall to their knees before Jesus Christ and say, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus has the words of eternal life, the power to conquer our most fearsome enemy, and we know we can trust in him. That is why we are called “believers.”

Discussion Questions

[Note: Talking about death is not easy. It may help students to be more comfortable, if the teacher “breaks the ice” and gives a personal answer to the first question. Be sensitive to students’ feelings.]

  • Have you had any experience with death? Did your Christian hope of eternal life help you in this situation? Why or why not?
  • Everyone has fears and uncertainties, especially concerning death. How can we help each other to overcome those fears?
  • Look carefully at John 11:25-26 (“I am the resurrection…”). What did Jesus mean by this? What meaning does it have for us today?

Activity Suggestions

  • Turn the raising of Lazarus into a play. Ask to perform it for a class of younger students.
  • In groups or as a class, use a concordance or online Bible to look up verses on resurrection. Who talked about it? Why is it important? How does it fit into our faith? (Consider the Apostles’ and the Nicene creeds)

Suggested songs: He Lives, The Solid Rock

Closing Prayer

Almighty God and Conqueror of death itself, we thank and praise you for the death that gives us life – Christ’s crucifixion – and the resurrection that was his and will someday be ours. Fill us with your holy joy at this good news and help us to share it with those who are fearful and doubting. In the all-powerful name of your Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord, 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

May 4-10, 2011–Everyone is Talking About It

Contributed by Angie Larson, Clive, Iowa

Warm-up Question

What is the biggest story that has been in the news lately?

Everyone is Talking About It

On Friday, April 29th at Westminster Abbey, Prince William of England and Miss Catherine Middleton were married.  The Royal Wedding consumed much of the media coverage over the past month.  It seems that everyone was talking about it.  Pre-wedding details were scrutinized by the media.  How will the couple process?  What will the dress look like?  Who will be invited to the ceremony?   The wedding was discussed on talk shows, news programs, and even included in sit-coms in the preceding weeks. Wedding memorabilia was sold, websites popped up featuring the couple, comparisons were made to previous royal weddings, and some websites even published appropriate vocabulary to use at the royal wedding.   It seemed every question surrounding the couple’s wedding was looked into by the media.  How much pressure did the florist feel?  What training will the police have to accommodate the wedding?  What does the prince feel about those who have turned down their invitations, like the prince of Bahrain and Ireland’s rugby captain Brian O’Driscoll? The Royal Wedding became the spotlight of media attention; it seemed that everyone was talking about it.

Discussion Questions

  • Did you tune in for the Royal Wedding?
  • What do you think about the amount of media coverage for the  ceremony?
  • How do you think the Prince and new Princess felt about the speculation and expectations leading up to their wedding?  How would you feel if you were them?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 8, 2011 (Third Sunday of Easter)

Acts 2:14a, 36-41

1 Peter 1:17-23

Luke 24:13-35

(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

A mournful pair walks down the road to Emmaus talking about all the things that had just happened in Jerusalem. Everyone was talking about Jesus’ crucifixion and the events that followed. They met a man on the road who appeared to not have heard the story of Jesus.  They did not know that that man was Jesus.  He asked them why they seemed so sad.  They replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” Jesus, keeping up the conversation, asks them to explain what has happened.  The pair explain to him everything that  happened and how suddenly three days after the crucifixion some women they know claim to have seen a vision of angels, telling them that Jesus is in fact alive.  Jesus takes this opportunity to open up the scriptures to them. He shares with them the prophecies and how they have been fulfilled in his actions.  The pair invites Jesus, still not knowing it was him, into their home to stay.  At dinner time, Jesus takes the bread and blesses it.  This is a strange event, as it is usually the homeowner who blesses and breaks the bread.  At that event, the breaking of the bread, the pair realizes that it is Jesus.  Then, interestingly, Jesus disappears.  They reflect on their feelings of what it was like to talk to him and are so excited and invigorated that even though it is late they run seven miles back to Jerusalem to find the disciples.

It seemed that everyone was talking about Jesus. The road to Emmaus couple was astounded to find that this supposed stranger had not heard about the death and resurrection of Jesus.  If it were in today’s world there would have instantly been websites, memorabilia, and newscasts of the events of Jerusalem.  People would be interviewed, scandals made up, and speculations intertwined with the facts.  It seems that everyone would have known about the event, like it seems that everyone knows about the royal wedding.  However, Jesus took this opportunity to provide some clarity for the pair consumed in grief.  He keeps his identity from them so that he can open up the Scriptures to them and show them all they ways in which the prophecies came true in his actions.  He shows them why the Son should suffer death and be raised, and that the events had a purpose.

Discussion Questions

  • How do you think the couple responded when they realized it was Jesus after he disappeared?
  • In your mind, was the pair consoled from their grief before they knew it was Jesus?
  • What are some ways that Jesus has been known to you unexpectedly?

Activity Suggestion

Create some resurrection memorabilia.  Either gather or purchase smooth stones.  With a paint marker, write “He is Risen” on one side of the stone.  Encourage those who you give them to use them as a reminder of the biggest news to ever come across the world, that Jesus has risen from the dead and that the tomb’s stone has been moved away.

Closing Prayer

Dear Lord Jesus, You are the biggest news that has ever happened.  Help us to talk about your life, death, and resurrection as much as we talk about other things going on in the world.  We are curious about your life. Open our hearts to your scriptures and our eyes to your presence. Help us to be continually surprised by who you are. Thank you for being present in our hearts. Amen.