Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

Faith Lens

August 25-31, 2010–Generosity in Abundance

Contributed by Scott Moore, ELCA Representative for the Luther Decade and Coordinator of Wittenberg Center Activities.

Warm-up Question

What would it mean to you to give away half of everything you have?

Generosity in Abundance

Once again in the news, Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet have upped the ante on what it means to be generous with one’s wealth by inviting their rich peers to take the “giving pledge.”  As the home page states, “the Giving Pledge is an effort to invite the wealthiest individuals and families in America to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to the philanthropic causes and charitable organizations of their choice either during their lifetime or after their death.”

The first 40 wealthy individuals or families to take the Giving Pledge are setting an example of generosity when many are much more concerned about their security in uncertain economic times. If you are wondering how much wealth is at stake, here are a couple of statistics. With just the 400 billionaires in the United States alone, there is a net worth of about $1.2 trillion. That means around $600 billion for charity if all 400 took the pledge. 40 of the first approximately 75 people agreed to participate. Their net worth is about $230 billion. One of the richest men, Warren Buffett, has pledged to give more than 99% of his wealth to charity.

This pledge is just beginning. The initiators hope that the number of those willing to share from their wealth will continue to grow. 

Discussion Questions

  • When was the last time you shared some of your “wealth” where it felt like a sacrifice?
  • What does your congregation do with the “wealth” it has?
  • What do you get out of sharing from what you have?
  • When have you shared your wealth with someone, knowing there would be nothing in it for you?
  • To which charity would you or do you give when you share your wealth?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, August 29, 2010 (Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

Proverbs 25:6-7

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Luke 14:7-14

(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

Imagine that! Jesus eating, but this time not with ‘sinners,’ as we always like to mention. Instead Jesus is going to a respectable Sabbath dinner at the house of one of the religious leaders in town. But he was being watched to see how he would behave and what he might say. Perhaps, the other guests thought that Jesus only knew how to break bread with ‘sinners’ and ‘undesirables’.  Maybe they hoped that Jesus would be an interesting dinner guest.  After all, Jesus had just completed his teaching and preaching tour in the villages on his way to Jerusalem where some of the Pharisees warned him to stay away because Herod was after him. Jesus responds that that he will continue doing what he has been doing. (13:32-33)

Just before they all sit down to eat, Jesus takes a moment and heals someone on the Sabbath, with a questioning challenge to those gathered. (14:3)

Now Jesus turns his attention to those gathering guests, jockeying for the best seat at the table. Jesus warns them to be humble and to not assume a higher place so that they might be lifted up. Turning to the host of the dinner Jesus encourages him to not throw a party in hopes of getting something in return. Share your banquet of abundance with those who could never offer anything in return.

In our daily lives, we are surrounded with a “quid pro quo”, “tit for tat” way of surviving. We all know that you have to be savvy and crafty and do favors for those who might be able to help you out in the future. That is how we are taught to survive and succeed in school and business. We like to quote the Golden Rule, “do unto others,” often with the sense of “treat people as you hope to be treated by them.” We love films like Pay it Forward in which the main characters do something good in hope that it will spread, eventually—maybe hopefully—coming back to them.

Even the wealthy do-gooders like Gates and Buffett hope to make society better through education. If we invest in others, then it will eventually be better for all of us. All of this is certainly true, noble, and to be encouraged. Jesus radically suggests that we should share with those who cannot hope to repay us. Share from what we have because we are blessed. Give without expecting anything in return. Jesus’ promise is that there will be a reward of another kind in the time beyond time.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever felt like you have given and given and it hasn’t changed the person or the situation? How did that affect your attitude toward giving?
  • How should we approach giving to those where it seems unlikely that our gift will make an obvious difference (alcoholics, drug addicts, etc.)?

Activity Suggestions

Learning About Local Ministries of Giving

Check out local food/clothing ministries and present the information to participants. Perhaps there is a local chapter of United Way that can help you see what kinds of organizations are near your congregation.

Other nationally based organizations that engage in feeding ministries include (but are not limited to) Bread for the World and ELCA World Hunger Appeal.

If your congregation already supports a local ministry such as a feeding program, food pantry, battered women’s shelter, homeless shelter, or literacy program, perhaps your group can participate by working with that ministry at some point in the near future.

 Half of All You Own

Anonymous giving of half of your group’s wealth…

Hand out paper and writing utensils and ask the participants to estimate their “wealth”…the value of all they personally own (how much would they have if they were to sell everything they have for cash) plus cash and savings…then ask them to cut that in half. Collect the sums (without names) and add it all together.  See how much money your group could accumulate.

Talk about whether or not they would survive giving half of what they own. What would that look like?  How would their lives change?  What could they accomplish with their combined wealth?

Discuss whether it is harder or easier to be generous when you are very wealthy.

Closing Prayer

God of grace and abundance, you have blessed your earth with the resources to meet the needs of your whole creation. Grant that we may receive with mindful thanksgiving what you have given us and then generously share it with those in need. We ask this in the name of the one who gave us his life, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen


September 9-16, 2009 – Michael Jackson is alive!

Contributed by Rod G. Boriack
Chicago, IL

Warm-up Question:  Have you ever spread some ‘news’ about someone or something only to discover later that it wasn’t exactly true? What was the not-so-true truth you helped spread?  

gossip150The King of Pop Michael Jackson… still alive? Who wouldn’t read a little more or stay tuned to find out more, even as crazy as it sounds.

Rumors, stories, online video clips, photos, blogs, so-called proof and eye witnesses, and entire Web sites refuting Jackson’s death have been popping up since the moment we the tragic news this past June 25th. Shades of the King of Rock ‘n Roll, Elvis Presley, who some people say is still alive and well.

Among the latest rumors being spread online is that of a video of Jackson supposedly hopping out the back of the coroner’s van. Nearly 2 million people have viewed the video clip online even though it it’s not very clear and doesn’t show the person’s face or the licence plate number of the coroner’s van.

Other stories and claims of Jackson’s being alive have include an odd assortment of photos, witnesses, theories, and “evidence” of Jackson crossing the border into Mexico, Jackson lounging poolside chatting with friends, faking his death to escape financial problems, hiding out in a bunker to escape the public, and secretly working for the CIA with other supposedly deceased celebrities.  

On the flip side of life, there have also been many instances of false stories or rumors of celebrity deaths spread via social networking sites and user-generated news communities. In almost every instance, the rumored dead celebrity just happened to still be alive to refute the rumors being spread. News — true or not — has never traveled so quickly as it has online, in news communities, or via cell phone techn0logy.

As the no-longer-living (1835-1910) humorist and writer Mark Twain put it, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”  In today’s world, Twain’s comments might have included debunking Tweets, text messages, and viral videos.

Michael Jackson’s burial took place on Thursday, September 3.

Discussion Questions

  • OK, just to clear the air, who among you believes Michael Jackson is really dead? (raise hands) Who believes he could still be alive? (raise hands) On what do you base your belief or opinion?
  • Who do you trust most when it comes to getting news or information about what’s going on with friends, your school, the community, the world? Are you ever curious enough to check out the facts for yourself, even when your trusted sources have given you the scoop? Why?
  • What would be the fastest way to start a rumor or story? If someone spread an untrue or confusing rumor about you, how would you fight it or persuade people to accept your word and truth?  How might the stories or inaccuracies effect your life in not-so positive ways?
  • We consider ourselves to be relatively smart and thoughtful human beings, as creatures go. Why then, no matter how wild or inaccurate the rumor or conspiracy theory, are there always people willing to believe or follow? (e.g., believing the earth is flat or that all the moon landings were faked.)  What might people be looking for, questioning, or hoping for?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, 13, 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.

Scripture Reflection

“Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.”  (Mark 8:27-30)

Don’t tell anyone about me? What’s up with that?

And what about in James? “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters…” (James 3:1) The writer’s not much of a career coach or recruiter. He goes on to say how easy it is to mess up what we say or how we speak to others.

Words are very powerful things, as are the many other ways we communicate with lightening-fast speed in today’s world. In a few seconds, minutes, or hours you can spread news, your opinions, or misinformation — with photos and video — worldwide. What a gift we have (truly)! In Jesus’ day, spreading the word to a very small local area would have been measured in days (very speedy), months (still speedy), years (pretty fast), or even centuries. Think about it… the printing press wasn’t even around until almost 1,500 years later. The camera? 1,800 years later. Internet for the general public? Try almost 2,000 years after Jesus spoke to Peter!

And with this wonderful, technological ability to communicate instantly comes great responsibility. More responsibility than ever before in history.

The messages in Mark and James aren’t meant to shut us down, shut us up, or turn the good news of God’s love for us into a secret. They do, however, say something about how important the gospel is, and how important it is to live, act, and speak in ways that are consistent with our faith and the gospel. We don’t have to be perfect about it — as humans, we can’t be — but we do need to be careful, thoughtful, and responsible with what we say and do because our witness will travel instantly far and wide. And there will be people who will listen, watch, and believe.

The gospel message is important. Studying the Bible, prayer, taking in the witness of others, and talking with each other are all important in developing a deeper sense of what God is doing in the world and what we need to share freely with everyone around us.

Taking this responsibility seriously, what will you say? How will you say it? 

Discussion Questions

  • Imagine that Jesus turned to you right now and asked, “Who do you say that I am?” How would you answer him?
  • Who have you been reluctant to share your faith with? What holds you back or discourages you? When is it difficult to find the “right” words or actions? When do words and actions of faith flow most freely for you?
  • We all have unique gifts and personalities, including in how we communicate with others and express ourselves. How do you prefer or feel best equipped to communicate with others? (Including different media and artistic means. E.g., public speaking, talking with others one-on-one, photography, music, using social networking sites, being quiet and sensitive, advocacy, drawing, Web design, video, listening, physical work, talking on the phone, email, writing, etc.)

Activity Suggestion

Make a list of what you believe are important truths or beliefs of the Christian faith. Do the same for our Lutheran faith tradition. Emphasize that Lutherans are Christians. Create the lists side-by-side. You can also do this in small groups and then bring the lists together to compare and discuss them.

  • What are the relationships and connections between the two lists?
  • How can these lists guide you in sharing your faith?
  • What do you have questions about, want to learn more about, or would love to have some “lively” discussions about? (You could do this as a group by going down each item on the lists and moving along a continuum line from one side of the room to the other, by a show of hands, etc.)

Closing Prayer

By your word, eternal God, your creation sprang forth, and we were given the breath of life. By your word, eternal God, death is overcome, Christ is raised form the tomb, and we are given new life in the power of your Spirit. May we boldly proclaim this good news in our words and our actions, rejoicing always in your powerful presence; through Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. Amen.

(Prayer for “Spread of the gospel,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 75.)