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October 21-28, 2009 – “Boy in Balloon” appears to be a hoax… parents’ publicity stunt

Contributed by Steven Alloway
Granada Hills, CA

Warm-up Question:  Have you ever been tricked into believing something that you found out later wasn’t true? How did you respond? What did you do when you found out?

balloon-boy250The nation watched in shock and anxiety this past Thursday afternoon as a large, silver Mylar balloon swept across the Colorado skies. The balloon was believed to be carrying six-year-old Falcon Heene, whom his parents reported had climbed into the balloon that was tethered in their backyard, just before the knots were untied, releasing Falcon and the balloon into the air.

Four hours later, the balloon landed — empty. It was discovered that Falcon had been hiding in the attic of the garage the entire time. But now, authorities believe that the entire ordeal was actually a hoax, a publicity stunt orchestrated by his parents in the hope of securing a reality television show for their family.

Sheriff Jim Alderen says that suspicions of the hoax first arose when the Heene family was interviewed on CNN’s “Larry King Live”. 

Felony and misdemeanor charges are expected to be filed against Richard and Mayumi Heene, as well as an investigation by Child Protective Services.

Discussion Questions

  1. Did you follow the news coverage of Falcon Heene and the balloon? Were you concerned for his safety? What’s your reaction now that it was all a hoax?
  2. What do you think should happen to Richard and Mayumi Heene? Should they be found guilty? What should be done with their children?
  3. With all the publicity surrounding these events, do you think the Heene family will ultimately be successful in their bid for a reality show? If so, would you watch the show? Why or why not?
  4. How real is reality TV? How much do you trust the truth or reality of what goes on in “reality shows”?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, October 25, 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

“I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.” The words of this familiar hymn, Amazing Grace, of course do not refer to literal blindness. It’s about blindness to the truth about Jesus, the gospel. Earlier in the chapter, the Pharisees provide an example of this blindness. They ask Jesus a silly question to test him, to trip him up. They weren’t concerned about the truth. They were too busy with their own public image and reputation, and the fact that Jesus was making them look bad.

On the other hand, Bartimaeus had his eyes open before Jesus ever restored his physical sight. He had no doubt heard of Jesus’ ability to work miracles, and he too wanted to be healed. So as soon as he heard that Jesus was near, he cried out to him. And he continued to cry out! In spite of being scolded by those around him, he continued to call to Jesus to help him.

And Jesus took notice. He called Bartimaeus over to him, and restored his sight. And as he does, he tells him, “Your faith has made you well.” Miracles are all well and good, but without faith, what difference do they really make? Blind Bartimaeus saw the truth about Jesus: that this was the Son of David, the man who could make him whole again, both physically and spiritually.

Many today are still blind to the truth and good news of the gospel. At times, our own vision and faith can be a little weak. There is strong temptation and encouragement to make us think that the way of the world is the only path to take, the only way to be happy and whole; that the gospel, and even God, is a hoax.

We may look like fools shouting into the wind to some people when we cry out, “Jesus, have mercy on us!” But we must press on. We must continue to cry out for Jesus for mercy, healing, forgiveness, and love, no matter what anyone says or how we look.

We can trust that God does hear us. God answers. Where we were blind, we shall see… through faith.

Discussion Questions

  1. Could Bartimaeus still have been healed physically had he not first been healed spiritually? Why or why not?
  2. What are some ways that God uses our afflictions and weaknesses (and strengths) to help accomplish his mission and work?
  3. What are some ways that we can help share and illuminate God’s promises and truth with others, including each other?
  4. What makes our words and actions of witness trustworthy?

Activity Suggestion

Sing “Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #779. 

Do some research into famous hoaxes in history. An Internet search for “famous hoaxes” is a good place to start. Why did people believe them? How was the truth finally discovered? How does this compare with the truth of the gospel, and the claim by some people that it’s all a hoax or myth? Talk about what faith, trust, and belief mean, especially in relationship to proof and fact.

Closing Prayer

Lord, I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see. Let my eyes always be open, that I might not be blind to your truth and word. Help me to share your truth with others, so that they too might see and know your great love and healing. Amen.

July 8-15, 2009 – 107-year old man outlives savings — twice!

Contributed by Steven Alloway
Granada Hills, CA

Warm-Up Question: Did you ever have to give anyone bad news, or tell them something you knew they wouldn’t want to hear? How did you tell them? How did they react?

A long, healthy life certainly has its advantages — but it can also cause unexpected problems. 107-year old Larry Haubner has lived at the Greenfield assisted living center in Virginia for five years. Now the cost of living in the center is about to drain his savings, for the second time. Two years ago, Haubner’s money began to run out, so his friends at the center collected donations totaling $56,000, so that Haubner could continue to live at Greenfield, rather than have to go to a nursing home. They thought this cash reserve would last the rest of his life.

But now at 107 years old, Haubner is still in good health and shows no signs of slowing down. A self-described “health nut,” Haubner exercises daily, eats right, is not on any kind of medication, and can lift his walker over his head. He never married and has no family of his own, but he is beloved by the other residents of Greensfield and their families, who have adopted him as their own, bringing him Christmas and birthday gifts. And of course, coming to his aid in his hour of need.

Now that the $56,000 previously raised is expected to run out in November, Haubner’s friends are once again rallying together to raise the funds to keep Haubner at Greensfield. So far they have raised $7,000. Carol Ewing, who holds Haubner’s power of attorney, has opted not to tell him that his funds are dwindling, and that he may have to move to a nursing home. “I don’t want to worry him,” she said.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think Larry Haubner is so well-liked at Greensfield? Why do you think so many people are willing to work so hard to help him stay?
  2. Would you donate money to Haubner to help him remain at Greensfield, rather than go to a nursing home? Why or why not?
  3. Do you think Haubner should be told about his financial situation, what’s being done to help him, and what will happen if not enough money can be raised? How do you think he would react? Would you want to be told if you were in his situation?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, July 12, 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

This is a difficult passage to study. It seems fairly straightforward: the imprisonment and death of John the Baptist. How Herod was manipulated into cutting his head off, against his better judgment. But what does this mean for us? What can we possibly take away from this story, to use in our own Christian lives? To understand it better, we need to go to the Old Testament lesson, in Amos.

The different lectionary readings for each week often share a common theme or similar message, if you look for it. And sure enough, as we read about Amos, a pattern begins to emerge. Amos, like John, was called to deliver God’s message to the people of Israel. Both messages contained proclamations of God’s displeasure, which angered the kings at which their messages were directed. As a result, they had to deal with the consequences of preaching God’s message to unwilling ears: Amos was told to leave and never return; John was imprisoned and beheaded. But both delivered God’s message and refused to back down in the face of adversity and threats.

But the application to our own lives is still a difficult one. Delivering prophesies to evil kings and being exiled or beheaded for our trouble is not something that’s likely to happen to any of us. To get an even clearer picture of what these passages mean for us, as modern-day Christians, we need to turn to the New Testament lesson, in Ephesians. There we see, in verses 4 and 5, “just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will.” Just like Amos, and just like John, we have been chosen by God to do his will and proclaim the gospel. Before the world began, God had a purpose for us. Now we need to fulfill that purpose and mission, and do whatever tasks and challenges are set before us.

The things God asks us to do are not always easy. They are not always enjoyable. And they may not make us particularly popular. Serving God can be a difficult, even perilous task.

But the Ephesians text contains something that the other two passages do not — the up side. We have the grace of God. We have redemption through Christ’s blood. We are forgiven all our sins. Though we can’t always see it from where we stand, we are a part of God’s work to unite all things in God’s kingdom in heaven and on earth. As God’s plan and promises are fulfilled, we can be confident of a divine inheritance as children of God — eternal life surrounded by God’s love.

So when things are rough and doing God’s will and desire for us seems daunting and difficult, remember that it’s all part of God’s plan. God is always in control. God is always with us and present, never abandoning us. The things of our life in this world are entrusted to us to use responsibly and generously to God’s glory, but they won’t last forever. God’s kingdom, though, is eternal.

Discussion Questions

  1. In today’s world, culture, and society, God isn’t likely to hand us a prophesy to deliver to the people, as God did with John and Amos. What are some things God might ask us to do in our own lives, and how can we do them? How can we spread God’s message of salvation, forgiveness, love, and justice?
  2. In today’s world, culture, and society, we also aren’t likely to face imprisonment or execution for doing the will of God, but persecution still exists. What are some ways we might be persecuted or ridiculed for doing God’s will? How can we find and have strength in the face of adversity? In what ways can we be faithful witnesses and at the same time respect other people and be attentive to the needs of others? How do we share the gospel in the face of opposition or discouragement?
  3. Living without Jesus in your life is like living without any savings or resources. No security of any kind, and the looming threat of losing everything at any moment. What are the blessings and promises of your faith that keep you going… that give you hope that stretches beyond life?

Activity Suggestion

Get into pairs or groups of 3 and practice telling each other about your faith. Talk about your belief in Jesus Christ. How do you understand God?

Come back together and talk about what seemed to flow easily from your heart and faith. What was difficult or presents a challenge for you? 

Closing Prayer

Lord, help me always to serve you and do your will, no matter how difficult it gets. Help me to spread your word and be a living example of your love and justice, even in the face of adversity. And help me always to remember your promise of eternal life with you. Amen.

May 13-20, 2009 – Man cleared after 22 years on death row



Contributed by Steven Alloway
Granada Hills, CA


Warm-up Question: Have you ever been punished for something you didn’t do? Have you ever been let off the hook for something you DID do? How did it turn out?

Paul House has been on prison death row in Tennessee since 1986, after being convicted of the murder of Carolyn Muncey. He was scheduled to be executed next month, but now, after intervention by local attorneys as well as an organization called The Innocence Project, all charges against him have been dropped, and he is free to go.

The case was first reopened in June of 2006, to give House a new hearing. “Substantial additional DNA testing and further investigation has shown that he is innocent,” said Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project. “Each time a layer of this case was peeled away, it revealed more evidence of Paul House’s innocence.”
DNA evidence originally seemed to prove House’s guilt, but further investigation showed that the blood samples may have been mishandled and contaminated during testing, and is in fact inconclusive.

Discussion Questions 


  • Why do you think that, after 20 years, the House’s case was finally re-opened in 2006?
  • Do you agree with the court’s decision to dismiss the charges against Paul House? Do you think he might still be guilty?
  • How do you think House will adjust to his newfound freedom, after 22 years on death row? How different do you think his life is now from what it was in 1986?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 17, 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

In John 15:10, Jesus says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…” Just a chapter earlier, in John 14:15, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” In both verses, the message is the same: love and obedience are inextricably entwined. God gave us a set of commandments. We are charged to follow them, every one, at all times. But at the same time, we know that we are doomed to fail. Every person on earth fails to keep God’s commandments. We may succeed in keeping most of them most of the time, but God demands no less than perfection. We must be holy, for he is holy. And, we simply can’t be that perfect.

But keeping God’s commandments isn’t about our actions. Which ones we’ve broken, which ones we’ve kept, when we’re going to break the next one… it’s about our hearts. God gave us these commandments, not to watch us struggle to obey them, trying unsuccessfully to prove our worthiness. God gave us commandments out of love for us.
So Jesus tells us that loving him means keeping his commandments. And keeping his commandments means loving him. And then he gives us a new commandment: to love one another, as he has loved us. If we can do that, abide in Christ’s love, loving God and loving each other, then keeping God’s commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) comes naturally. “You shall not steal.” “You shall not bear false witness.” “You shall not kill.” Would we do these things to someone we love?

God gave us his commandments to show us his love. They act as a mirror, to show us our sinful nature. We are unable to keep God’s commandments through our own power. And when we try to, we are merely servants, slaves to sin, striving unsuccessfully to keep God’s commandments because he told us to, fearing his wrath if we don’t. But then in God’s commandments we also see Christ’s love: the greatest love there is, laying down his life in place of ours, freeing us from the bonds of sin, so that we would no longer be servants, suffering God’s wrath for disobedience, but friends, with Christ’s love flowing through us.

It is only through Christ’s love that we are able to love one another. And it is only in Christ’s gracious love that we are able to keep God’s commandments. If we have Christ’s love in us — loving him and loving one another, and keeping his commandments — then Christ’s joy will be in us too. A joy shared among friends and all people. Our joy will be full! 

Discussion Questions


  • How can we share Christ’s love with others? How can we show them both that God loves them, and that we love them?
  • How do the actions of someone who knows he has been freed from the bonds of sin, to be called a friend of Christ, differ from the actions of someone who struggles to keep God’s commandments without love, like a servant trying to avoid his master’s punishment? How should we live our own lives differently, when we abide in Christ’s love?
  • How is our freedom from sin, to become members of the body of Christ, like Paul House’s freedom from death row after 22 years, to rejoin mainstream society? How is it different?

 Activity Suggestion

Whether guilty or innocent by law, we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Pretend you have been given the opportunity to share the gospel with Paul House. Write a conversation with him, connecting the good news of Christ to the events in his life, and using his ordeal to illustrate God’s love, forgiveness, and justice for us. Use verses from today’s Gospel, and any other scriptures you think might be applicable, to tell him about Christ’s sacrifice for us, and our freedom from lives of sin — all sin.
Closing Prayer

Lord Jesus, thank you for loving me, and calling me your friend. Please help me always to abide in your love, that I may keep your commandments. And let your love flow through me, that I may spread that love to others, and love them as you also love me, that we may experience your love together and thus also your joy. Amen.

February 18-25, 2009 – Mom’s singing wins career makeover contest

Contributed by Steven Alloway
Granada Hills, CA

Warm-up Question: Have you ever made any major changes to your appearance, or your lifestyle? What changes did you make? Why did you do it? How did the people around you react?
 After losing her job in 2007, Nicole Nagy decided to go back to school and become a nurse. But times are tough and her family was behind on their mortgage, so finding the money to pay for tuition seemed unlikely. But Nicole found the solution in an odd place — a contest called Careereoki. The contest invites people to make a video singing about their intended careers, in order to win a “career makeover” that includes a scholarship, résumé help, and a $100 gas card. Nagi appears in the video with her husband and three children, wearing a nurse’s uniform and singing, “A Bad Case of Nursing Blues.”

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

Gospel Reflection


This was an important event in Jesus ministry. He had been known as a teacher, healer, and prophet, but now he reveals himself as something more. There he is, sitting with two of the greatest prophets in history, his face shining with the glory of heaven. Surely, this is the Son of God.
But why did he do it? Most of Jesus’ other signs and miracles were to help others: feeding them, healing them, things like that. But now, he takes just three disciples with him to a secluded place, shows them all of his heavenly glory, and then warns them not to tell anyone. Why would Jesus do that?

First, we must keep in mind that Jesus did not perform signs and miracles for himself or fame. He was twice tempted by the devil to do so, by turning stones into bread and by jumping off the temple roof, and he adamantly refused. And his miracles were not just for the physical benefit of the people he healed. They were for the spiritual benefit of the people who witnessed the miracles, and ultimately, of us, as believers.

So Jesus was transfigured (changed in form and appearance) physically, so that Peter, James, and John could be transfigured spiritually. They saw Jesus in all of his glory so that they themselves could be filled with the Spirit, and ultimately be encouraged and energized as witnesses in the world. But then again, if that’s true, then why did he tell them not to say anything yet? Because it wasn’t time. The world wasn’t yet ready to know of Christ in all of his glory. Even the disciples weren’t quite ready.

When Peter saw Jesus, talking with Moses and Elijah, he wanted to set up booths or tents for them, places for them to stay, for a night, for a week, or for as long as they could. Peter wanted to camp out and remain in this one glorious moment. Perhaps he wanted to stay there and learn from these prophets of ages past. Perhaps he wanted to bring the other disciples to see Jesus in all his glory. But whatever he wanted, it wasn’t what God had in mind. The purpose of the transfiguration wasn’t so they could remain on the mountain, but so that they could go out into the world, filled with the Spirit through what they had seen.

If Peter, one of Jesus’ closest companions, had this reaction to Jesus’ transfiguration, how would the other disciples and the rest of the world react when they heard about it? They’d all want to see it for themselves, and maybe even keep it to themselves. They’d crowd around and yell for Jesus to bring Moses and Elijah in for a panel discussion. They’d try to make him their ruler, and beg him to set up a kingdom here on Earth, as they often did.

But it wasn’t time for Jesus’ full glory to be displayed to the world. First he had to be humbled, to suffer and die on a cross for our sins, and then his full glory would be revealed through his resurrection and ascension. Then he charged his disciples with spreading the news of his glory to all the nations of the world. With this new responsibility and job, Peter, James, and John were equipped with an amazing story of their experience with Jesus on the mountain, in all of his heavenly glory for the sake of the world. For what purpose? So that we all might be transfigured and changed by God’s love for us through Jesus Christ.

Discussion Questions


  • Which of Jesus’ signs and miracles would you say you’ve been most changed by?
    Which one speaks to you the most, personally and spiritually? Why?
  • If someone showed you something incredible, then warned you not to tell anyone about it, do you think you could keep your mouth shut? Or would you spread the news to everyone? Who would you tell, email, call, or text first?
  • Why do you think Jesus chose three specific disciples — Peter, James, and John — out of all the others to witness his transfiguration? How do you think they were transformed or given a “makeover” by witnessing it?
  • How is Nicole Nagy’s “Career Makeover” for her vocation of nursing like our transformation as children of God for our vocation of spreading the gospel to those around us? How are they different? 

Activity Suggestion

  •  Find some of the other places in the gospels wherein Jesus charges people not to tell anyone about the miracle he’s just performed. Do they tell? Why does Jesus warn them not to in each instance?
  • Make your own video or skit about Jesus’ Transfiguration, and the reactions of the disciples, both at the time, and after Jesus’ resurrection. Include a song or two if you want.

Closing Prayer

 Lord Jesus Christ, transform me. Fill me with your Spirit and guide me, so that I can do the things you ask of me: to serve you and all people, and to spread your word of love, forgiveness, hope, and new life. Amen.

The top five finalists were chosen by a panel of judges who based their decision on originality, creativity, and humor. Then the winner was selected by the listeners of a local radio station, who voted for their favorite video on the station’s website.

“It was a way to connect to job seekers,” said Kimberly Cornett, Vice President of Workforce Central Florida, who helped sponsor the event. “And also for job seekers to take a little break from the stress of unemployment.”

Discussion Questions

  • Would you videotape yourself singing and dancing in order to get into the career you wanted or get a promotion? What would you sing?
  • Do you think the contest is a good idea? How do you think it will help more people find jobs? What are the downsides?
  • If you had the means, how would you help people who have lost their jobs and are looking for a new career? What would you do for them? What would you ask them to do?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, March 1, 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.)