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November 27, 2011–Signs of the Coming Kingdom?


Contributed by Paul Baglios, St. Paul, MN


Warm-up Question

When we pray to God as Jesus taught, “your kingdom come,” do we really mean it?  Do we really expect it?  Do we really want it?


Signs of the Coming Kingdom?

Earlier this month , Asteroid 2005 YU55 passed by the earth at a distance closer than the moon.  NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced the following:  “Asteroid 2005 YU55 was discovered Dec. 28, 2005, by Robert McMillan of the Spacewatch Program near Tucson, Ariz. The nearly spherical object is about 400 meters in diameter [i.e., a quarter-mile wide, bigger than an aircraft carrier].   The closest approach will be at 6:28 p.m. today [November 8], when it will come within 80 percent of the distance to the moon.  There is no danger the asteroid will pose a threat to Earth for at least 100 years.   The next approach of a space object as large as Asteroid 2005 YU55 will be in 2028.”   Within days of that event, a passing comet produced an event known as a Taurid meteor shower, producing fireballs in the sky visible in both the northern and southern hemispheres of the earth.


Discussion Questions

  •  How many of you were aware of the passage of the asteroid close to the earth on November 8?  How did you hear about it?  What did you know about it?  Was this event discussed in your school?
  • Do any of you enjoy learning about astronomy?  If so, what do you enjoy most about it?  Do any of you have a telescope?
  • How do you think earlier generations of human societies regarded visible astronomical phenomena before the invention of telescopes and the current understanding of our solar system and the cosmos?


Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 21, 2011 (First Sunday of Advent)

Isaiah 64:1-9

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Mark 13:24-37

(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

Long before and ever since the birth of Jesus, some people have regarded astral phenomena as signs of an approaching end-time which brings the destruction of the earth and the end of life as we have known it.  Many religious traditions have incorporated such speculation into their understanding of sacred purpose and reality.  Jesus speaks to that interest in our gospel text from the Mark 13, but he cautions us against speculations which distract from the central concerns of faith.  For Christian faith, speculation about the end-time is a trivial distraction from the present circumstances of our life and our world.  When Jesus tells us, “keep awake,” he is not calling us to anxious concern about the end-time but to vigilant exercise of faith in each present moment.  The facts that dazzling astral phenomena can be seen in the skies in every generation and that Jesus speaks to “this generation” help us to understand that focusing our faith on speculation about the future is not nearly as important as engaging our faith in each present moment.  Elsewhere Jesus says, “the kingdom of God has come near” (for example, Mark 1:15).  When he tells us to “keep awake,” he is calling us to pay attention to the nearness of God’s kingdom in the circumstances of our lives, today – and every day.


Discussion Questions

  •  To help you think about what Jesus means when he speaks about “the kingdom of God,” read Mary’s song of praise (known as the Magnificat) in Luke 1:46-55, and Jesus’ own teaching in Luke 4:16-21 and Luke 7:18-23.  When and where and how have you seen such signs of God’s kingdom in the circumstances of your own life and the circumstances of our world?
  • What makes it difficult to see signs of God’s kingdom in our lives and our world?  Why is it often difficult to believe that “the kingdom of God has come near”?
  • How do we, individually and together, represent to others the signs of God’s kingdom, the signs of its nearness?

Activity Suggestions

  • Ask individuals to  list two or three signs of God’s kingdom they have seen recently – in their lives or in the lives of others, whether within their our own community or in the larger world.  Share lists with the whole group.
  • As a group, identify two or three ways that you might work together to be a sign of God’s kingdom to others.  Make a plan to act upon what you have identified.


Closing Prayer

God, strengthen our faith that we may sincerely pray for the coming of your kingdom, giving us eyes to see its nearness in our lives and in our world.  Teach us to pray daily with all your people: Amen; come, Lord Jesus.

November 25-December 2, 2009 – Angel bus driver

Contributed by Connor Early (10th grade student), Clive, IA
and Angie Larson, Clive, Iowa

Warm-up Question:  What would you do to help people in need? Are there limits to what you would do?

jorge-munoz200Jorge Munoz may sound like the name of a typical New Yorker, but he is much more than that. He is a school bus driver! But more importantly, Jorge Munoz, 44, has supplied over 70,000 meals to the homeless over the past four years.

Every night he pulls up in his white pickup truck and unloads as many as 140 meals with hot food, coffee, and hot chocolate. Both food and gas costs are estimated to be about $400-450 a week, which he pays for with his $700 a week paycheck. People of all backgrounds come to receive a meal, usually their first and only for the day.

Jorge says that seeing these people remind him of when he first arrived in America in the 1980’s. He was born in Columbia and his father had died when he was young. His mother had moved to Brooklyn to earn money to support him and his sister, and he soon followed. He achieved citizenship with his mother and sister in 1976. He stood on the streets not looking for work, but as an immigrant, much like the people he serves.

Jorge began his now non-profit meal program in the summer of 2004, naming it “An Angel in Queens, Inc.” His work has consumed much of his time, money, and space, but he or his sister carries the work on every night of the year. When asked why he spends so much time helping people he doesn’t even know, he replied:

“I have a stable job, my mom, my family, a house… everything I want, I have. And these guys [don’t]. So I just think, ‘OK, I have the food.’ At least for today they’re going to have a meal to eat.”


Discussion Questions

  1. How is Jorge helping to make a difference in the world? What steps is he taking to reduce hunger?
  2. How do you think the people feel towards Jorge’s generosity? What is something they might say to him?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 29, 2009. (first day 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 B at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Scripture Reflection

In the 1st Thessalonians text, Paul writes about increasing and abounding in love. In Luke, we are reminded to not be weighed down by the worries of this life. Both texts spread news about living a life of abundance instead of a life of scarcity. Often we think that we do not have enough. We do not have enough money. We do not have enough material goods. We do not have enough of whatever it takes to fill our need or want.

The good news is that love abounds and God provides. Jesus tells us that the kingdom is near. The kingdom is within us.

In the Gospel, we are warned against things that lead to a life of scarcity. Jesus tells us to look out for those things that get in the way of living the abundant life that God has planned for our lives. When we look at life as short and precious as it is, we can adopt an attitude of gratefulness; abounding in love.

Jorge Munoz adopts this way of life. He does not let his career as a bus driver or that he’s an immigrant keep him from giving in abundance. Instead, he realizes that he has much to give from his abundance. He is not weighed down by what he lacks, but gives from what he has. We can do the same.

Discussion Questions

  1. In what area of your life do you feel like you have scarcity? What is scarcity?
  2. Realistically, do you think you would be like Jesus, James and John, or the other ten disciples?

Learn more about: 

Activity Suggestion

Everything I have

Ask your group to write down everything that they own all over a huge piece of paper. Or do it as a huge collage of photos, pictures, and drawings.

  1. Step back and look at all the things listed.
  2. What’s your first impression?
  3. What are your first thoughts about your life, generosity, need, decisions you make, lifestyle, and how you will live life?

Closing Prayer

Blessed Savior, thank you for serving us. Help us to remember to serve others. We know that at times we look towards power and prestige; we ask you to help us redirect ourselves during those times. Bless those who serve others with their lives. Enable us to learn and live extraordinary lives of service. In your name we pray. Amen.

November 11-18, 2009 – The end is near… run!

Contributed by Rod G. Boriack
Chicago, IL

Warm-up Question: Do you ever think about the world coming to an end? How do you envision it happening?

bomb-blast180The end is near — again — run! The movie “2012” is getting ready to open in theaters everywhere in November.

“2012” is based on the pop-theory that the end of the world is going to be on December 21, 2012. The story follows an academic researcher leading a group of people in a fight to counteract the apocalyptic events that were predicted by the ancient Mayan calendar and other historical documents, astronomy, biblical and scientific data.

There’s plenty of action, mysterious and ancient messages, destruction, earthquakes, tsunamis, narrow escapes, explosions, and more! The characters even out-run, out-drive, and out-fly the massive collapse of the entire West Coast. Yipes!

“2012” joins a long line of end of times movies:

  • “Independence Day” (1996)
  • “The Day After Tomorrow” (2002)
  • “The Fifth Element” (1997)
  • “Terminator 2” (1991)
  • “Men in Black II” (2002)
  • “Deep Impact” (1998)
  • “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951 & 2008)
  • “War of the Worlds” (1953 & 2005)
  • “Left Behind: The Movie” (2001)
  • “End of Days” (1991)
  • and on, and on, and on.

If it’s got you worried or wondering, remember, it’s just Hollywood smothering us in computer generated imagery (CGI) special effects and appealing to the worst of our inner fears and imagination.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you like these end of times kind of movies, or the ones that show the survivors of a world disaster or collapse? What draws you to them? Or, what do you find uninteresting about them?
  2. What do you think of the predictions and theories of when and how the world will end? What do you think of the people who make them? (Like Nostradamus’ predictions, the Left Behind novels, people who interpret numbers and symbols, astrologers, self-proclaimed prophets, religious or cult leaders, etc.)

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 15, 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

Talking about the end of the world is nothing new. We fear it, hope it doesn’t happen, can’t wait for it to happen, pray that we’ll survive it somehow, want to the know the signs of it approaching, and are sometimes shocked or depressed by the thought of it. We want the details.

(Oh yeah, and we probably want to be able to out-run any explosions, tidal waves, or earthquakes that may happen. Like in the movies.)

The end of the world, and what follows, was a hot topic in Jesus’ time, too. A lot of people thought it was going to happen any day (that was 2,000 years ago). They wanted to know if what they were experiencing in life — war, persecution, famines, earthquakes, sickness, political problems… sound familiar? — were signs that the end of the world was near.

There were plenty of people who claimed to know how and when it was going to happen. And, as throughout history, plenty of people believed and followed them: “…they will lead many astray.” Here in the book of Mark, Jesus reminds his disciples not to be drawn in by such con artists or people stirring up fear and panic in the name of God.

So, what are we to do? Act like nothing is going to happen? Forget about the present and become obsessed with the end? Run?

Jesus has another idea: actively wait. Don’t ignore the life we have right now — it’s a gift entrusted to us. Don’t run away and ignore everything. Instead, challenge each other to actions and relationships of love, compassion, and justice. Get together and encourage each other. Never let go of hope. We have been given life and set free by God’s love and forgiveness to live it fully…

“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)

Discussion Questions

  1. Imagine Jesus is sitting here with us in the room. We’re talking about all the great stuff going on in life right now and all the cool stuff we’re going to do, and Jesus interrupts: “You know, it’s all going to come to an end someday. It’s all going to be gone. I don’t know when, but it’s all going to end.” What’s your first gut reaction to his comments? Then what questions pop into your head that you want to ask Jesus?
  2. What’s your interpretation of what’s meant by “actively waiting”? When you read the Bible and reflect on God’s word, what things does God seem to want us to be busy with in life? What things does God want us to be concerned about (other than the end)?
  3. Where do you find hope when things seem dark, pointless, or overwhelming? What hope do you find in God’s word and promises?

Activity Suggestion

No better time than right now.

Pass out paper and something to write with. Ask each person to write down as many things as they can that they want, hope, or need to do, accomplish, or say before they die. Give the group 3 minutes or so to make their lists.

Gather back together or in small groups. Share your list of “must do” things. Give each person encouragement to actually do something that they have mentioned; encouragement to work on it right now.

If participants permit, post all of the lists on the wall and leave them up for a few weeks. Refer back to them now and then, and see if anything is happening. Give gentle encouragement and offer prayer.

Closing Prayer

God, make me brave for life: oh, braver than this.
Let me straighten after pain, as a tree straightens after the rain,
Shining and lovely again.
God, make me brave for life; much braver than this.
As the blown grass lifts, let me rise
From sorrow with quiet eyes,
Knowing your way is wise.
God, make me brave, life brings
Such blinding things.
Help me to keep my sight;
Help me to see clearly
That in darkness, you are light.

(author unknown)

July 29-August 5, 2009 – Signs of the times

Contributed by Pastor Seth Moland-Kovash
All Saints Lutheran Church
Palatine, IL

Warm-up Question:  What is your favorite billboard that you’ve ever seen? Why did it catch your eye and why do you remember it?

Signs can be literal things that have words and pictures on them to give us a message. They may be billboards advertising a certain store or product. They may be political signs telling us who we should vote for. They may be signs at your church telling you about the next big event.

But signs can also be metaphorical. They can be things that happen that give us a message. We sometimes talk about things as signs of the times. For instance, it is a sign of the times that you probably do not have a record player in your bedroom. It’s a sign of the times that major world events sometimes get reported on Twitter before television.

Whenever there is bad news (economy, war, New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina) we obsessively look for “signs of recovery.” For example, this story about Hurricane Katrina recovery talks about the rebuilding of houses in New Orleans on raised platforms. Some homes are being rebuilt with the first story being all garage or something else before you get to any actual living space.

These rebuilt homes are a sign of recovery for New Orleans.

Discussion Questions

  1. If you traveled to New Orleans for the Youth Gathering, what were signs of recovery and new life that you saw there?
  2. What would be signs that would make you really say that New Orleans had recovered from Hurricane Katrina?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday,  August 2, 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

The crowds that gathered around Jesus wanted to see a sign. They wanted something they could look at and they’d know what it meant, just as clearly as we see the golden arches and know what that means.

They followed Jesus to watch all that he did, all his healings and all his teachings, and tried to interpret the signs. But just as it is hard for us to sometimes interpret the signs (Has New Orleans recovered completely, still recovering, or not recovering at all?), it was hard for them to understand the signs they were seeing. They missed the point. They asked for more.

In the Gospel of John, the things that Jesus says are sometimes hard to understand. He isn’t perfectly clear all the time. In this case, he wasn’t either. He didn’t explain all the signs to the crowds. He didn’t tell them what the signs meant. In fact, he kind of acted like a sign. Like a sign on the road points the way to an exit or to a gas station or a restaurant, Jesus pointed. Jesus pointed to God. He said that it was God who gives us the bread and everything we need. It’s God who makes it so we are never hungry or thirsty again.

Jesus used his teachings and his miracles, and the way he lived his life, to point the way to God, like a sign. Who and what do you point to?

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think Jesus was trying to point people toward?
  2. If your life were a sign, where would it point people? Toward God? Would people know about God if they looked at your life? What does you life say about your Creator?

Activity Suggestion

Use your youth group to become a human sign. What do you want to show the rest of your congregation? Think of a message. Perhaps it’s something about being grateful to God. Perhaps it’s something about service to others. Then SHOW them. No words allowed. Be creative. 

Closing Prayer

Good and gracious God, use our lives as signs to point the world toward you and your love. Amen.

June 17-24, 2009 – UFO or sign from God?

Contributed by Rod G. Boriack
Chicago, IL

Warm-up Question: What’s the freakiest, unbelievable thing you’ve ever seen or witnessed? Who did you tell?

(CNN Video, ” Possible UFO caught on tape,” June 16, 2009)

Denna Smith is a writer who hopes to work with Tyler Perry someday, but, she says, even she couldn’t make this story up.

“We were like what is that, we were all stopped and we were astonished,” said Smith.

Smith and her family were at Kings Dominion Amusement Park in Richmond, VA when they saw a black floating ring in the sky. “Is this the end of the world, what is going on?” Smith wondered.

Kings Dominion says the ring is smoke from a ride called Volcano. UFO investigator, Cameron Pack, agreed. Pack said he’d be convinced it was just smoke if it weren’t for pictures of a similar sighting at Fort Belvoir, taken sometime in the 1950s.

Smith says she’s positive it wasn’t smoke. “Smoke usually looks smokey and cloudy. This ring of smoke was a perfect circle. It was lined up so tight like it was a cut in the middle of the sky,” said Smith. She also doesn’t think it was a UFO.

“It was like a sign, God gives you signs and I just felt like that was a sign and I’m not sure what that sign meant but it meant a great deal to my family because when we got home we all got in line and prayed together. We were freaking out,” Smith continued.

Pack says he plans to follow up with Kings Dominion. Smith thinks his investigation could turn up something. “I still believe it is still out there we just don’t know where it went,” said Smith.

Discussion Questions

  • OK, here’s the hot question… do believe in UFOs? Have you seen one or something you thought could have been a UFO? What do you think they are? (visitors from another planet, signs or messages from God, natural phenomena like clouds, hallucinations, smoke, not sure, etc.)
  • If you saw this unusual ring in the sky how might it affect your beliefs about certain things? What new questions would it stir up in you?
  • Who would you tell about your UFO sighting? Only your closest friends, everyone, absolutely no one, your most trusted best friend? Post it on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter for everyone to see?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, June 21, 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

Those crazy disciples! Always dazed and confused when it comes to figuring out Jesus, who he is, what he’s all about, and the unbelievable, miraculous things he does. And they were around him all the time; imagine what the crowds and strangers thought and wondered.

These days, we say “seeing is believing.” But it’s never that easy… take the UFO siting, for example. 100 people see the same thing, even video it, and they’re still wondering what they saw. You go to a movie and and don’t even notice the special effects, realistic scenery, or crowd scenes that have been created digitally through CGI (computer-generated imagery).

Who is this Jesus? He heals sick people, makes storms go away, tells parables that sound like riddles, knows Jewish scriptures backwards and forwards, brings dead people back to life, commands demons to leave people, talks about the future as if he knows exactly what’s going to happen, and says he is the son of God. Wow! How do you take all that in and make sense of it all?

And in 2009 we still wonder about Jesus! Go figure.

The words Jesus spoke to the howling storm winds and the frightened, confused disciples in the sinking boat are powerful, simple words probably meant for us: “Peace! Be Still!” “Why are you afraid? Where is your faith?” Have faith and trust God. The facts, miracles, stories, and events are too tough to sort through on our own based on simply human knowledge, experience, and text books.

Have faith and trust God. Take it all in and trust God. Jesus’ message to us is pretty consistent and clear throughout the Bible even though we may be unsure or confused:

  • We are created and loved by God.
  • All our weaknesses and sins are forgiven.
  • God has given us new life — eternal life.
  • We are free to live our lives differently as followers of Jesus… as servants of others, working for justice, loving and forgiving others, seeking peace, welcoming strangers, encouraging each other in faith, and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with everyone — everywhere.

Peace! Be still! Have faith!

Discussion Questions

  • When it comes to your faith and what you believe, what are the questions you wrestle with right now? (Take some time to cultivate trust and open conversation about the questions raised. Meet the questions with respect and empathy. Encourage other young people to respond to each other, but not to fix, answer, or solve everything. Notice any common questions or any that are particularly tough.)
  • What would you say you are pretty solid about in your faith and beliefs? What do you feel pretty certain about? (This doesn’t imply that you never have doubts, questions, fears, or curiosity. These are things we all experience as God’s Spirit helps our faith grow, learn, stretch, and deepen throughout life in an ever-changing world.)

Activity Suggestion

Covenant to learn more about or revisit what Lutherans profess to believe. Explore what other groups of Lutherans believe and practice. It can be easy to get hooked on the differences, but also note the things we share in common as Christians. You can find some resources at

Closing Prayer

Gracious and holy God, give us diligence to seek you, wisdom to perceive you, and patience to wait for you. Grant us, O God, a mind to meditate on you; eyes to behold you; ears to listen for your word; a heart to love you; and a life to proclaim you; through the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

(Prayer for “Those seeking deeper knowledge of God,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 76)