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April 27-May 3, 2011–Mythbusters

Contributed by Bill King, Blacksburg, VA


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


Courtesy of Mythbusters

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

Discussion Questions

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

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

Acts 2:14a, 22-32

1 Peter 1:3-9

John 20:19-31

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Gospel Reflection

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

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

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

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

Discussion Questions

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

Activity Suggestion

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

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

Closing Prayer

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


September 16-23, 2009 – Grandfather of the Green Revolution dies

Contributed by Erik Ullestad
West Des Moines, IA

Warm-up Question: How would you define greatness?

Dr. Norman Borlaug, "grandfather" of the Green Revolution.

Dr. Norman Borlaug

Dr. Norman Borlaug, a man who is credited with saving the lives of over 1 billion people and being the “grandfather of the Green Revolution,” died last week at the age of 95. Most of Borlaug’s life was spent finding new ways to increase grain yields in developing countries. His discovery of new type of hybrid wheat strains helped nations avoid widespread famine in the 1950s and 1960s. He was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for increasing food security in Mexico, Pakistan, and India. Some call Borlaug “the most important man you’ve never heard of.” 

Borlaug grew up on a farm in northeast Iowa, the great-grandson of Norwegian immigrants. His grandfather was instrumental in founding a Lutheran church in their community. As he grew, Borlaug developed a love of agriculture and science. He took what he learned in the field and applied it in the labs at the University of Minnesota. From there, he studied how various seeds and fertilizers responded to different climates and geographies.

In addition to the Nobel Peace Prize, Borlaug has also been awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. The only other people to receive all three honors are Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Elie Weisel, Nelson Mandella, and Martin Luther King Jr. In 1986 Borlaug established the World Food Prize which acknowledges people who work to increase the quality and quantity of food in the world.

People close to Dr. Borlaug described him as humble, gracious, and unassuming. In one of his last interviews, Borlaug summed up his efforts by saying, “You can’t build peace and tranquility on empty stomachs and human misery.”

Discussion Questions

  • What, if anything, did you know about Norman Borlaug before reading this article?
  • How are people in your community working to feed hungry people?
  • Think of your definition of greatness. Does this definition apply to people like Dr. Borlaug? Why or why not?
  • How important is it for great people to also be famous? What are the benefits? What are the drawbacks?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, September 20, 2009.

(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

Jesus and his friends are taking a long walk (30+ miles) from Mount Hermon to Capernaum. As with any road trip, there were lots of different conversations along the way. One discussion centered on the topic of greatness. The disciples were arguing about who among them was the greatest.

Before we become quick to judge their selfishness, let’s remember the life they had been living for the past few years. Most of these men were from humble origins. They literally dropped everything when Jesus told them to “come and follow me”. This ragamuffin group walked from town to town, not knowing where they would sleep or what they would eat. They had lived as peasants alongside a man who called himself the King of Kings and Son of God. Wouldn’t we be tempted to have a similar conversation about who was the best, the favorite, the most loved, or the greatest disciple?

We learn that Jesus chose not to engage the disciples in the conversation until after they had arrived at Capernaum. Instead of privately addressing his friends, he chose to publicly admonish them for their egocentric chat earlier in the day. Jesus’ decision indicates that he is really angry with his friends and he wants them to be humbled, or perhaps he thinks that there might be others in the room that have had similar discussions with their friends. Siblings that argue about who is the favorite. Servants that claim to be the most dedicated. Carpenters who think they are the best at their craft.

Jesus tells everyone that being great requires becoming a servant; being powerful means becoming childlike. In saying this, Jesus not only reminds his disciples about the foolishness of their argument, but he also is telling people about himself. Jesus’ greatness is not exhibited by military might, shrewd political strategy, or the ability to wave a hand and make things happen. His greatness is manifested in serving others and caring for those in need.

Earlier in Mark 9 we hear Jesus tell his disciples not to tell others about the amazing things that happened on the Mount of Transfiguration. Those words, along with the appointed text from today, give us a clear indication of how Jesus chooses to function. He preferred to teach, heal, and preach quietly and faithfully instead of boasting about his importance. Jesus’ greatness is seen in his service to others and not in making a public spectacle of his mighty acts.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever argued with your friends, classmates, siblings, etc. about who is the smartest, best-looking, or greatest? Why? What difference did it make?
  • Why do you think Jesus doesn’t want to draw a lot of attention to himself?
  • What do the images of “servant” and “child” tell us about how Jesus defines greatness?
  • Does Dr. Borlaug fit Jesus’ definition of greatness? Why or why not?
  • Who is someone you know that seems to exemplify this kind of humble greatness?

Activity Suggestion

(Check with your worship committee or pastor before doing the following activity… or at least give them a heads-up.)

Give each student several colorful index cards or sticky notes. Set out colored pencils or markers for everyone to share. Have people write an affirming statement or scripture verse on each of the papers. (Example: “Jesus loves you” or “Romans 8:38-39”.)

Go to the sanctuary and place these notes into the pages of the hymnals. If a worship service is taking place after your meeting time, stick the note in the page of one of the hymns that will be sung during worship. That way, you know someone will read it!

Closing Prayer

God, help me to serve you by serving others. Give me grace to be humble in my serving. Thank you for sending your son to make the ultimate sacrifice so that we might live eternally with you. Amen.