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May 26, 2013–His Caring Spirit Lives On

Contributed by Brian Hiortdahl, Chicago, IL


Warm-up Question

Do you believe in ghosts?

His Caring Spirit Lives On

shutterstock_5982979editSo proclaims the title of a local newspaper article reporting the memorial services for Sean Collier, a beloved young police officer at MIT killed in the wake of the bombing at the Boston Marathon:


Discussion Questions

  • React to the article.  What feelings does it stir in you?
  • Do you believe that people’s spirits continue to be present with us somehow after they die, or is that just grief’s wishful thinking?  What personal experiences inform your answer?
  • What is the best way for a community to honor someone special who has died?
  • What similarities and differences do you see between what the mourners said about Officer Collier after his death and what Christians say about Jesus after Easter?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 26, 2013 (The Holy Trinity/First Sunday After Pentecost)

Proverbs 8:1-4,  22-31

Romans 5:1-5

John 16:12-15

(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

This week’s gospel reading gives us the words of someone who died too young, the victim of someone else’s political statement:  Jesus.  On the night before his death, he tells his friends that he has so much more to tell him than he has time to say it or they have capacity at the moment to hear it, but he also promises that the Spirit of truth will come to them.  Since Jesus is himself the truth (and the way and the life), the Spirit of truth is his Spirit, coming “to guide you into all the truth.”  This Spirit is identified in Christian theology as the third person of the Trinity, sometimes named the Holy Ghost.  In a way, the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ way of haunting us.  Or, to phrase it as the news article does, “his caring spirit lives on” among us.

Yet this Spirit is more than a spook, a vapor, a legacy, or a memory.  The Holy Spirit is God fully (though not bodily) present with us.  It is nearly as mystifying and beyond our comprehension as the larger teaching we celebrate on Sunday that God is Trinity:  one God in three persons, a unified community of generous, trusting love.  Those of us who cannot fully grasp these deep truths–who cannot bear them now–can hold onto the promise that (somehow, over time) the reliable Spirit will guide us into all the truth.

Discussion Questions

  • What questions puzzle you?
  • Where, when, and how do you experience the living presence of God in your life, as an individual and as part of a community?  What inspires you?  (Do you know the etymology of the word inspire?)
  • Who in your life has done the work of the Spirit, guiding you into the truth?
  • Read and discuss 1 John 4:1-21, which begins: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God…. According to this biblical writer, how do we recognize whether a spirit is from God or not?

Activity Suggestions

  •  Serve as a mentor or tutor for someone with less learning or experience than you; help guide them into new truth that you know.
  • Honor someone who has died, but whose life and spirit continue to teach, bless, or inspire you.
  • As a group, begin planning a holy haunted house for the children in your church next Halloween.   (Maybe the Church itself is really a holy haunted house!)  Find fun, creative ways to trace the evidence that the Holy Spirit has been present and active there. And what about “the great cloud of witnesses,” the saints?  Is Martin Luther’s spirit still there? (Remember Reformation Day.) What about the faithful members of the congregation and other Christians elsewhere who have died?  (Remember All Saints Day.) What spirits continue to bless us with their presence at Holy Communion…not in fear, but in love?

Closing Prayer

Blessed Trinity, keep guiding us into the truth that you are. Shepherd us into and share with us your holy and beautiful dance of powerful life and perfect love.  Grant that your caring Spirit live on in us and bless the world with your abundant grace.  Amen.

June 8-14, 2011– Seeing Jesus Face to Face

Contributed by Stephanie Opsal, West Des Moines

Warm-up Question

Have you seen Jesus in your life?

Seeing Jesus Face to Face

Todd Burpo’s book, Heaven is For Real, has become a sensational “must-read” for many.  Burpo describes his four-year-old son Colton’s emergency surgery and his incredible trip to heaven and back when he loses consciousness during the surgery.  Burpo can see that this is not just a dream.  Colton knows about things he would not otherwise know, such as the locations of his parents during his surgery and the existence of his miscarried sister.  In addition, he describes the true nature of the Triune God and confirms a great deal of Scripture.

This book is becoming popular across the globe, as evidenced by its spot on the New York Times best-seller list, printing over 1.5 million copies and attracting over 56,000 fans on facebook.  What about this book draws so many people’s attention?

People have an eagerness for experiencing the unknown, one reason mystery and sci-fi books and movies are quite popular.  We cannot imagine how great heaven is going to be.  At the mention of this indescribable place where no hurt remains and in which our hope resounds, we jump at the chance to catch a glimpse of God’s majesty via an experience like Colton’s.

The passage in Romans 8:18-25 comes to my mind.  The apostle Paul discusses his current sufferings in prison as a minor step compared to the strong hope he has for the future, unseen glory of heaven that God will soon reveal.  It is so exciting to hear about someone who saw Jesus face to face.


Discussion Questions

  • Are you interested in reading this book?
  • Have you or a loved one ever had a near-death experience?  Do you have any stories from the situation?
  • What do you think heaven will be like?  Are you confident that by Jesus’ death for us you will be there someday?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, June 12, 2011 (Day of Pentecost)

Acts 2:1-21

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

John 20:19-23

(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

In this short passage, the risen Jesus appears to the disciples through locked doors to offer them words of peace and encouragement.  But He also offers a much greater gift.  Knowing he will soon ascend to heaven Jesus breathes his Spirit onto them and empowers them do His work in the world.  In the same way, we receive the Holy Spirit in our hearts as we put our trust in Jesus Christ.  In John 14:12, Jesus tells His disciple Philip: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”  By the Spirit’s power bestowed upon us by Christ, we can do even greater things on earth to fulfill God’s purposes for us.

We can be just as excited as that little boy in Heaven is for Real.  Colton saw Jesus in heaven, but we can also see Jesus right now, wherever we are, because the resurrected Savior lives in and through all His people!  We are sent by Jesus just as the Father sent Him, to forgive others, love others, and share the truth of humanity’s redemption through Christ Jesus.  The Spirit of God within us directs our paths and accomplishes more than we ever could on our own: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Spend some time in prayer, asking Jesus to reveal His living presence to you and lead you in His plans for your life (Jer. 29:11).

The disciples were overjoyed to see that Jesus was alive and offering them peace, strength, and the direction of the Spirit (verse 20).  We are blessed with the presence of Jesus in our hearts and in our lives.  Strive to see the Lord today.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think would be your first response if you saw Jesus in the flesh today?
  • Describe characteristics of the Holy Trinity including how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all work together as one true God.
  • How can you see Jesus working through your life or the lives of others, even though He is present in Spirit now rather than in the flesh?
  • Do you feel called to do something or change something in your life to become more like Jesus?
  • How can we thank God for giving us the gift of His Holy Spirit?

Activity Suggestions

  • Draw two pictures of Jesus, one of how you think He might look as a human and one of how you think His Spirit would look as He works through people’s lives.  (For example, a person doing a good deed or someone using his gift of art to paint a beautiful picture to hang up in the church or to give to someone in need).
  • Read excerpts from Heaven is For Real and discuss what you think heaven will be like based on what the Bible says about it as well as your own thoughts.
  • Use your Bible and concordance to look up other passages about ways the Holy Spirit lives and works through believers.  What other words to Scripture use to refer to the Spirit; what does that say about the purpose of the Spirit’s work in our lives and world?

Closing Prayer

Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we praise you for rising from the dead and offering all of your disciples the lasting gift of your living presence in our lives.  We humbly accept your leadership in our lives and pray that we  be able to see you working in and through us to do your work in the world while we are here.  We thank you for giving us hope for an eternal home with you in heaven one day.  In Jesus’ precious and holy name we pray, Amen.

May 19-25, 2010–An (Increasingly) Open Book

Contributed by Daniel Wiessner, Tacoma, WA

Warm-up Question

To whom do you turn when you’re not sure what to do?

An (Increasingly) Open Book

Turns out everyone’s Facebook privacy is getting a lot less private all the time and, unsurprisingly, a few feathers are getting ruffled.

Ryan Singel at Wired noted the private interests which are unavoidably public via Facebook. He wrote, “I’d like to make my friend list private. Cannot. I’d like to have my profile visible only to my friends, not my boss. Cannot. I’d like to support an anti-abortion group without my mother or the world knowing. Cannot.”

The recent addition of Facebook’s new “instant personalization” is getting particular attention due to its sharing of your personal information with Pandora, Microsoft Docs, and Yelp, in order to help those sites tailor their advertisements to fit your interests. Users can opt out, but the process is apparently complicated and confusing. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), among other organizations, is rallying against Facebook with claims that “Instant personalization violates user expectations and reveals user information without the user’s consent.”

Mark Zuckerberg, the guy who started this crazy Facebook thing, stated earlier this year that  Facebook is constantly being updated “to reflect what the current social norms are.  A lot of companies would be trapped by the conventions and their legacies of what they’ve built… doing a privacy change for 350 million users is not the kind of thing that a lot of companies would do. … But we viewed that as a really important thing, to always keep a beginner’s mind and what would we do if we were starting the company now and we decided that these would be the social norms now and we just went for it.”

Main article from:
Wired quote from:
Zuckerberg quote from:

Discussion Questions

  • Are you on Facebook? (Show of hands, for curiosity’s sake.)
  • How do you feel about these privacy changes? Does it really matter to you?
  • Some people argue that Facebook is causing these shifts in social norms that Zuckerberg spoke about. Do you agree with Zuckerberg (that Facebook is just following the trend) or do you think that it is a driving force in the change? Why?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 23, 2010 (Day of Pentecost)

 Acts 2:1-21

Romans 8:14-17

John 14:8-17 [25-27]

(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

I’m afraid I can’t “tsk” Philip too harshly for his opening line in this week’s gospel lesson because, really, he and I have something in common here: We don’t always pay attention so well. Fortunately for the both of us, we have been blessed to hold the company of some very kind and very patient people who are willing to explain things to us again and again.

If you remember, Jesus is going to be leaving his disciples, Philip included.  Reading the rest of John 14 reveals pretty clearly that the disciples are uncomfortable with the idea. The disciples general response is “But-but-but.. Wait! Where are you going? We feel kind of low on definite instructions. Is there any way we could maybe text you if we have questions?”

Jesus calmly and patiently reassures his disciples that things are going to work out just fine. In fact, he even leaves them a number to call, so to speak, in case they get confused. Jesus promises another advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will “teach [them] everything, and remind [them] of all that [Jesus has] said to [them].”

In the same way, by reminding us of Jesus’s teachings and instructions, The Holy Spirit acts as our own divine guide. This is a great gift when our easily confused moral compass might mistake North for East.

With this promise of the “Spirit of truth,” Jesus closes this week’s lesson with some of the most wonderful, calming words we could ever hear from our Lord and Savior. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Amen, Lord Jesus.

Discussion Questions

  • Go back and explore the rest of John 14. Think about how the disciples felt before and after this week’s Gospel lesson. What do you think your reaction would have been?
  • Looking back at the news for today, do you think that Zuckerberg’s moral compass is confused? Or is the Facebook privacy issue a moral issue at all? Explain.


Activity Suggestions

Texting Treasure Hunt:

In this exercise, there is one leader and a group of hunters. (For youth groups, I recommend there be an adult leader acting as the “leader” as well as another adult leader in the group of “hunters.”) The leader of this exercise must know the surrounding area well. To assist in delivering accurate directions, it may be helpful for the hunters to have  a GPS-enabled phone  while the leader tracks them via Google Latitude or a similar service.

The leader tells the group of hunters that he or she will be waiting for them somewhere nearby before suddenly leaving them. The hunters then petition text messages from the leader in order to help find their way. The leader may be as cryptic or simple as he or she desires.

After the hunters find the leader, they should explore how they felt during the exercise. Was it unnerving to be unaware of where they were headed? Was it reassuring to know that they could ask and receive directions whenever they needed it?

Closing Prayer

Dearest Jesus, thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide us along your pathways. Thank you for the reassurance you give us every day, through the remembrance of your great sacrifice, that we need never let our hearts be troubled. Amen.

May 5-11, 2010–Faking It and Forgiveness

Contributed by Steven Alloway, Granada Hills, CA

Warm-up Question

How do you feel after you do something you’re not supposed to do? Do you worry about whether or not someone will find out? Do you worry about what kind of trouble you’ll get into?

Faking It and Forgiveness

Tatiana Khan of Los Angeles, CA paid an art restorer $1,000 to make a forgery of Pablo Picasso’s 1902 painting, The Woman in the Blue Hat. She then turned around and sold it for $2 million.

Then the FBI got involved. Khan first told the authorities that she had gotten the painting from someone else and didn’t know it was a fake. She also told the painter of the forgery to lie to the FBI, to claim he only does restoration work, not copying. But the truth soon came to light. Khan is scheduled to plead guilty next month to felony charges of witness tampering and making false statements to the FBI. Her crimes carry a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison, but a plea bargain, based on her cooperation, recommends a maximum sentence of only 21 months.


Discussion Questions

  • Why do you suppose Khan tried to sell a phony Picasso? Why do you think the art dealer went along with it?
  • Considering that the charges Khan now faces do not concern the painting itself but her subsequent dealings with the FBI, why do you think she lied and tried so hard to cover her tracks, when she knew she was caught?
  • If you were the judge, how would you sentence Tatiana Khan? Which sentence do you think is more appropriate for her crimes, 21 months or 25 years?  What sentence should the forger/art dealer receive?


Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 9, 2010 (Sixth Sunday of Easter)


Acts 16:9-15

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

John 14:23-29

(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

“Those who love me will keep my Word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” Familiar words from a familiar verse. But upon closer inspection, the interpretation becomes a little more daunting.

“…and my Father will love them.” But what if we don’t keep God’s word? Won’t he still love us? Because, try as we might, none of us can keep God’s word all the time. And what about the next verse? “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” But we do love Christ! We may mess up.  We fail to keep his words the way we should. We may even flat out deny our relationship with Jesus, as Peter did. But that didn’t mean Peter loved Jesus any less, nor do we. Though we love him, we are prone to sin. So what can we do?

Well, Jesus covers that too. “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.” God sent us the Holy Spirit to help us in our spiritual lives. He will keep us on the right track, be our help in times of trouble, and guide us when we stray from the path. Everyone strays from God’s word sometimes. The Holy Spirit is our advocate—someone who intercedes on our behalf when we fail to measure up, a reminder that God still loves us, even when we sin.

Jesus also gives us something else: Peace. When we sin, it can weigh heavily on our conscience and tear us up inside.  We worry about what we’ve done and wonder what others will think of us if they find out. But Jesus gives us his peace, so that our hearts need not be troubled. Knowing we are forgiven, that God still loves us, we can rest easy. But we do more than just rest. With the Holy Spirit to guide us and Christ’s peace to comfort us, we can get back on the right path, seeking to love God and keep his Word.

Discussion Questions

  • Since we know that we’re forgiven and God still loves us, even when we sin, does that give us a free pass to sin whenever we want? Why? How would that attitude reflect on our love for God?
  • What are some ways the Holy Spirit has guided you back to God’s path when you strayed?
  • How is our situation like Tatiana Khan’s? How is it different? Do you think the FBI cut her a deal for a reduced sentence out of forgiveness or for some other reason?

 Activity Suggestion

Look in the Bible for other mentions of the Holy Spirit (The Spirit, Comforter, Advocate, etc.). Write about how the Holy Spirit is active in our lives.

Closing Prayer

Holy Spirit, watch over me in all that I do and keep me on the right path.  When I stray, lead me back to you. Give me your peace, so that my heart may not be troubled.  Help me always to love you more and more, that I may keep your Word. Amen.