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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.)

December 17-24, 2008 – Power 100 breakfast honors women in entertainment

Warm-up Question: What famous or accomplished women can you name? What are they recognized for?

There are several annual “Power 100” lists released at the end of the year: the 100 most powerful people in sports, business, politics, and others. But the film industry has its own list: the 100 most powerful women in entertainment, compiled by the respected trade paper The Hollywood Reporter. The list is made public and awards are given at the annual “Power 100” breakfast in December.

Only a handful of this year’s honorees work in front of the camera. Most notable (and least surprising) is Oprah Winfrey, winner of the number one spot. One other performer, actress Angelina Jolie, made the top twenty-five. Former model Tyra Banks and comedy writer/actress Tina Fey were included in the top 51, while Food Network star Rachel Ray appeared at number 65. At the 100th spot was teen star Miley Cyrus.

This was the 17th year of the event. During that time women have made great strides in gaining positions of power in Hollywood. Numerous recipients were CEOs, presidents, and vice presidents of major film companies and television networks, or their own companies.

Discussion Questions

  1. The film industry is over 100 years old. Why has it taken so long for women to gain executive positions in the entertainment industry?
  2. Do you think that women should continue to be honored separately from men, even though they are gaining more respect and better positions every year? Why or why not?
  3. How will we know when women have attained full equality? What will happen then? What will it look like?
  4. What purpose does recognizing the accomplishments of women in entertainment (or any realm of life) serve?

Women of the ELCA have a wealth of resources and ministries to explore…for all ages!

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December 21, 2008.
(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.)

  1. 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
  2. Luke 1:46b-55 (52) or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26 (1)
  3. Romans 16:25-27
  4. Luke 1:26-38

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

Gospel Reflection

Whether she is honored as a saint, admired for her courage and faithfulness, or held up as an example of total submission to God’s will, Mary is certainly the most important and memorable woman in the Bible for Christians. She was poor, humble, and most likely illiterate. She hailed from Nazareth, a despised little hick town. Yet, none other than the angel Gabriel tells her that she is “highly favored” by God.

What does this “favor” involve? She becomes the subject of gossip and ridicule when she is found to be pregnant without a husband. Her betrothed, Joseph, almost leaves her. She must watch her son, Jesus, suffer and die. This is favor?

In our world, “favored” means rewarded with position, honor, wealth, and preferential treatment. It is a breakfast where our work is recognized and celebrated. It is winning, gaining, or accomplishing. What did this poor girl, probably no older than a teenager, do to be called favored by God?

Mary was obedient. She declared herself “the handmaiden of the Lord.” She trusted God with her life and her son’s life. She sang for joy in all this, even in the midst of any uncertainty or self-consciousness she may have felt.

Well, that’s fine, but things are different now, aren’t they? Women are powerful, significant. They have rights. They buy and sell and do business around the world. There’s nothing wrong with that. The ideal woman described in Proverbs is a businesswoman (Proverbs 31:16, 18, 24). She receives praise and reward for her work.

In the end though, it is Mary who shows us the ultimate and faithful virtues in the eyes of God: obedience, faith, submission, and joy in the Lord. These are required of anyone — male or female — whom God calls to service, from Abraham to Moses and the prophets, from Ruth to Paul, to Jesus. As Christians, we, too, are called to service and faith even though it will most likely not make us famous, rich, or remembered like Mary.

Discussion Questions

  1. What do submission and obedience to God mean in everyday life? How can ordinary people like you and me practice them?
  2. Submission does not mean being a “doormat” or letting others take advantage of you. How can we show humility like Christ and still stand up for ourselves and others?
  3. What about joy in the Lord, such as Mary expressed in her song, the Magnificat? Where do we get it — joy? What do you think God is promising, and not promising, to us when it comes to joy? How do we sustain it, especially in difficult times? How do you personally measure or describe joy?
  4. Does obedience to God mean that we should not accept praise or rewards for doing God’s work? Why or why not? What is a faithful and humble attitude towards any praise we may receive?

Activity Suggestions

In groups or as a class, make your own top 5 lists (or more or fewer). Start with Biblical characters from both the Old and New Testaments. Who were the most powerful and influential people in the Bible? The best servants? The bravest? Have students make up others.

Activity extension: Do the same with Christians throughout history, people of faith from the past or present, including people from your own congregation.

Suggested Songs

  • “Away in a Manger,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #277
  • “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” Lutheran Book of Worship, #42
  • You can also read or sing the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) or “My Soul Does Magnify the Lord,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #882

Closing Prayer

God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, we praise you for the example of the one who was highly favored — Mary, our model of faithfulness, obedience, and joy. Like Mary, may we be always humble, always submissive to you will, and always useful to you in service to others. Let us not be absorbed in earthly rewards, but take joy in the gifts you give us both now and for eternity. In the name of your blessed son, Jesus Christ, whose birth we anticipate and celebrate. Amen.

Contributed by Sylvia Alloway
Granada Hills, CA

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

October 29-November 5, 2008 – Mother Teresa: great saint or great fraud?

Warm-up Question: What makes a “modern day saint”?

Nobel Peace Laureate, Christian celebrity, and a person on the fast-track to sanctification in the Catholic Church — all of these characteristics describe one woman, Mother Teresa. For many people, she is the greatest example for someone who lived a truly Christian life. Now, with the publication of a new book, a few dissenting voices that have been calling her a fraud all along have become prominent again.

Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Macedonia to parents who were of Albanian descent. At the age of eighteen, she left home and joined the Sisters of Loreto who ran missions in India. As a nun, she first taught at a high school in Calcutta. Seventeen years later, in 1948, she received permission to devote herself to the care of the dying in the slums of Calcutta. She started her own order, the Missionaries of Charity, and won support of her cause all over the world. Mother Teresa’s work has been praised by church leaders and ordinary people alike. In 1979, she won the Nobel Peace Price.

Critics of Mother Teresa have always pointed out that she represented the most fundamentalist views of Catholicism. She condemned abortion and divorce, for example, even in cases of abuse. Her critics also questioned her order’s fundraising methods and her verbal support of dictators such as the Duvalier family of Haiti who donated money to her cause. They also pointed out that, in their opinion, her display of poverty was a show and that, when it came to her own health treatment, she went to hospitals in Western Europe and the United States, not to the hospital run by her order.

While her previous critics did not have much of an audience, a different kind of evidence has now surfaced that could damage Mother Teresa’s image of a saintly human being. It appears that Mother Teresa, after beginning her work with the poor in Calcutta, lost her faith. For almost 50 years, with the exception of a few weeks, she did not feel the presence of God in her heart or when receiving the Eucharist. In one of her letters to her confessor she wrote: “Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.”

The people who compiled this and similar letters in “Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light” want to show that the perceived absence of God can still be a divine gift that enables people to do saintly works. Yet, Mother Teresa’s critics and others ask why she was able to smile and talk about the presence of God in the world if she herself felt nothing but darkness and loneliness.

Could it be that one of the greatest women among us was actually one of the lowliest? Or does one of Mother Teresa’s most quoted sentences ring especially true for her own life: “I do not pray for success, I ask for faithfulness.”

Discussion Questions

  • Do you think that Mother Teresa will be considered more or less of a Christian in the eyes of the world when people find out that she felt further away from God than most of us?
  • How can someone who doubts the existence of God still do good works in God’s name?
  • Which do you think is better: to act like a Christian but be a non-believer, or to believe and not act according to your faith? Why?
  • Should charities accept donations from unethical or questionable sources, even if they use that money for a good cause? What would be some examples that you’re aware of? (e.g., tobacco company money being used for health care projects, social ministry program accepting gambling money, etc.)
  • Describe a time or experience in your life when God felt close, and a time when God felt distant or not there at all? What or who helped you during these experiences?
  • What should people do who work for the church but feel that they have (temporarily) lost their faith?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 2, 2008.
(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.

Scripture Reflection

Our text from the Gospel of Matthew is part of a longer speech by Jesus preached against the scribes and the Pharisees. It leads into a symbolic action by Jesus who leaves the temple in order to show that it is doomed.

Matthew 23 has been called “the unloveliest chapter in the Gospel” because it portrays the Pharisees and scribes in the most negative way possible. The experience of the Holocaust has taught us that this chapter contributed to anti-Jewish sentiments among Christians. Even in modern languages, “Pharisee” is often synonymous with “hypocrite”. This is why we should approach this text carefully and without preconceived notions about Judaism then and now.

But our Gospel text is not so much about what others do wrong and what we do right. Instead, it asks for humility and a focus on Christ. Most of us are talented and gifted people, in one area or another. These gifts should be celebrated and used, for sure. But we often want to use our gifts and talents to show the world that we are someone special; we want our 15 minutes of fame. We want to be the fastest, or the prettiest, or the most talented, or the most watched video on Youtube, or the best in something. But we should remember that there is only one teacher, only one master, only one leader, and only one Savior — Jesus Christ. Knowing and accepting this can lead us to use all of our wonderful gifts and talents for the benefit of others; not to put ourselves on a pedestal, but to be God’s hands in the world.

The Jesus who is “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29) thus becomes our model for a truly Christian life. Matthew imagines the community comprised of Jesus’ followers to be one that does not have hierarchies. Instead, it should be a community of equality among sisters and brothers who serve each other as well as people outside of the community. This type of community can prosper and live together through difficult times. Among people who are truly sisters and brothers, times of personal trial can be survived because when one member is weak, others can be strong for them.

Discussion Questions

  • Who do you consider to be a great example for the Christian faith?
  • Is there a group of people you know of who live out their Christian faith in better ways than others?
  • Who are they and what do they do?
  • What would a church look like, in which the principles from Matthew 23 are followed closely?
  • Discuss the practicality of the vision for the Christian community in Matthew 23.

Activity Suggestions

  • Psalms about a distant God
    The Book of Psalms preserves many voices that complain about a distant God or ask God to come near once again. Read in small groups or together some examples for such texts: Psalm 43, Psalm 42, or Psalm 22:1-20. Then, ask your students to write a “modern psalm” that talks about what somebody might experience who feels that God has left him or her.

  • A modern day saint
    Split your students into small groups of two or three and ask them to develop a schedule for someone who they consider a modern day saint. What would their day or their week look like? Have a few sheets of paper ready with an outline of a person drawn on them. Students can write the schedules in or around that outline, or decorate it to show what a modern day saint might look like. Display the sheets and discuss the results in the group.
  • Love letters
    Mother Teresa is reported to have said, “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who writes a love letter to the world,” and “We are all pencils in the hand of God.” Ask your students to write, from the perspective of God, a love letter to the world. What do they think would God want to say to God’s people in our modern world? You can make this task more memorable if you get pencils with scripture verses printed on them that students can take home after today’s lesson.

Closing Prayer

Dear God, there are times when we feel that you are close to us. In those times, it is easy for us to do your will and to be a follower of you and your son. But there are also times when you feel so far away. We ask you to give us a strong community and a few “modern day saints” in our lives that will support us when we feel left alone by you. And give us the strength to return the favor and care for others when they need it. Amen

Contributed by Pastor Claudia Bergmann
Eisleben, Germany