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June 23-29, 2010–Strangers in a Strange Land

Contributed by Eric Ullestad,West Des Moines, IA

Warm-up Question

If you had to suddenly move to a new town and could only take three things with you, what would you take and why?

Strangers in a Strange Land

Escalating ethnic violence has prompted over 120,000 Kyrgyzstan (KUR-gi-stahn) refugees to flood into the neighboring country of Uzbekistan.  Fighting broke out on June 9 in the Kyrgyzstan city of Osh between ethnic Kyrgyzs and Uzbeks.  Within three days, the violence had spread to Jalal-Abad, which required the interim government leader, Roza Otunbayeva, to declare a state of emergency.  These skirmishes reflect a larger state of unrest in Krygyzstan since president Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in April.

The official death toll is around 200, but local Kyrgyz and Uzbek leaders estimate that number will be over 1,000 by the end of the month.  Though the violence was initiated by ethnic groups of Kyrgyzs against Uzbeks, the Foreign Ministry of Uzbekistan has offered their country as a safe haven for Kyrgyzs who fear for their lives.  The United Nations has declared the situation a “humanitarian crisis” and called for countries all over the world to send aid.  The United States, Germany, and Russia, have been among the first to respond.  “There is an urgent need for food, water, tents, and medical supplies,” said one Red Cross volunteer.  “Nearly half a million people are homeless.  They need help now!”

Discussion Questions

  • What have you heard about Kyrgyzstan in the last few weeks?
  • How would it feel to be one of the 400,000 displaced by the violence?
  • What are ways that our country can help bring an end to the fighting?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, June 27, 2010  (Fifth Sunday after Pentecost)

1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Luke 9:51-62

(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

Much like the news coming out of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, the gospel text is about two things – hospitality and urgency.  Prior to the events of Luke 9:51-62, Jesus has been very busy.  He empowered and sent the disciples to preach, teach, and heal.  He fed five thousand men (plus women and children) with five loaves of bread and two fish.  He became transfigured on a mountain in the presence of Peter, John, and James (not to mention the ghosts of Elijah and Moses).  He even healed a demon-possessed boy.  Talk about a busy couple of weeks!

Jesus sets out for Jerusalem and realizes that he will need a place to sleep along the way.  He sends messengers ahead to a Samaritan village to see if they would host Jesus for the night.  Because of ethnic and religious differences, the Samaritans refused to let Jesus into the village.  James and John are ready to respond by wiping the village off the face of the earth.  However, Jesus wants no part of a violent response to the Samaritan’s lack of hospitality.  Instead, they find another village.

The second section of the gospel text demonstrates the urgency of discipleship.  Jesus approaches two people with invitations to follow him.  Both men are willing to follow, but one wants to take a day to bury his dead father and the other wants to say goodbye to his family.  To many these requests seem reasonable.  However, Jesus implores them to follow him immediately and not waste their time with farewells.  Why?  Perhaps he knows that if these people return to their loved ones, it becomes less likely that they will return to follow Jesus.  It’s also possible that Jesus has work for them to start right away and can’t afford to let them waste any time.

We can discern a lot of things about the nature of Jesus from the end of Luke 9.  Specifically, Jesus refuses to use his power to punish people and he has a sense of urgency for people who want to follow him. 

Discussion Questions

  • How would you respond to someone who refused hospitality to one of your friends?
  • How do you feel about Jesus’ sense of urgency in talking to a would-be follower?  Why wouldn’t Jesus let the man take a day to bury his father before joining Jesus?
  • What do you think Jesus means when he says “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God”?  How would you feel if Jesus said this to you right after one of your parents died?
  • If Jesus were physically present today, what words might he have for the people of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, based on his words and actions in Luke 9:51-62?

Activity Suggestions

Contact your local Red Cross to see how you can help respond to the crisis in Kyrgyzstan.  This might include assembling care packages, writing letters to displaced families, or collecting a special offering for money to send.  Remember to pray for the people who have been affected by the violence in that region.

Closing Prayer

God, help us to show your hospitality and care for those in need.  Give us a sense of urgency in sharing the good news of your son, Jesus, with the whole world.  Thank you for the gifts you give us.  Amen

April 15-22, 2009 – Sad news surrounds joyful Easter celebration

Contributed by Pastor Jay Gamelin
Columbus, OH

Warm-up Question: Think of a time when you got hurt (physically, emotionally, spiritually, or otherwise). What’s the most important thing you learned from that experience

In the weeks leading up to Easter this year, sad news filled nearly every newspaper and broadcast. In just over a week, there were five mass murders in the U.S. alone, from Oakland, CA, to Binghamton, NY, killing nearly 40 people. In Italy, just as that predominantly Roman Catholic country was beginning to celebrate Holy Week, a massive earthquake killed at least 260 people. Violence continues in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in other war-torn corners of the globe. And all over the world, people continue to struggle with a devastated economy.

All this news has surrounded what for Christians ought to be the most joyful time of the year. Figuring out how to celebrate on a tighter budget in the midst of difficult times is an ancient challenge, and one that the faithful will face again as they gather to celebrate the festival of the resurrection and the bright, seven-week season of Easter that follows.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever tried to celebrate something (Christmas, Easter, your birthday, family weddings, etc.) while also having to deal with sad news? How did that go?
  • What did your family do for Easter this year? Was anything different than years past?
  • How do you think the families of people who died in the shootings in the U.S. felt during the Easter celebration this year, especially if they were Christians?
  • What do you think Jesus would say to folks who were trying to celebrate Easter while also finding themselves homeless after the earthquake in Italy?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 19, 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 comicAgnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

The week after Easter is a peculiar Sunday in the church. On most Sundays, the appointed readings are different each year, following a three-year cycle. But every year, on the week after Easter, we hear this story about Thomas, the disciple who asked for proof. That makes me wonder: What’s so important about this story that the church asks us to read it every year during this time?

It seems to me we could answer that question with two words: doubt and scars.

Isn’t it a bit jarring that just one week after the lilies and the brass, the egg hunts and family gatherings, the joyful shouts and songs filled with “Alleluia!,” all of a sudden we run into doubt and scars? What happened to butterflies and bunnies?

The church is trying to tell us something. From the beginning, the joyful news of the resurrection had to be spoken, heard, sung, and lived by people whose lives were not very joyful. “He is Risen!” did not put an end to the suffering and persecution, death and danger that those first Christians lived with. In fact, their claim that Jesus, whom the Empire had tried to destroy, was in fact living and reigning as the true King of Creation, made things even worse for the faithful.

In the midst of danger and suffering, it’s normal for a little doubt to creep in. Thomas asked, and for good reason, to see the same proof that Jesus handed — literally — to the other disciples. For Thomas, as for most of the citizens of Jerusalem, the resurrection had not changed anything. Well, not anything they could see anyway. Life was still hard, and death was still at hand. So before Thomas took the message of “He is risen!” very far, he needed to be sure he wouldn’t just be telling a cruel joke to people who needed some real, meaningful hope.

Legend has it, Thomas ended up taking that message very far indeed — all the way to India! So whatever Jesus showed him was good enough.

What Jesus showed him were scars. Jesus was alive, but his body still had the marks of what he had suffered. His own flesh would not let him, or us, forget about the real tragedy and death he endured. Knowing that Jesus was still a marked man helped Thomas know that God still understood the danger and the risk of living faithfully in a broken world. Those scars gave Thomas’s own scars holy meaning: doubt and danger are still abundant, but God’s love and life are more abundant still.

We, too, live this Easter faith in a dead and dying world. Thanks be to God, Jesus lives and breathes in the midst of our doubts, bearing the scars, and yet overflowing with life. Alleluia! Amen.

Discussion Questions

  • If you were Thomas, what proof would you ask for to know that the resurrection — rising death — was real?
  • What does it mean to you that Jesus still has the scars on his resurrected body? If God could raise him from the dead, why didn’t God take the scars away, too?
  • Do you have any scars (physical or otherwise)? Where does God fit into the stories about how you got your scars?
  • What difference does “He is risen!” make in your own life? If “He is risen!” actually made your life more challenging and dangerous, would you still tell it to your friends and neighbors? Would it make a difference to them?

Activity Suggestions

  • Get a laminated map of the globe and some Vis-à-vis overhead pens. Invite folks to draw or write on places on the map where the world is scarred or marked. Play some music during this time (anything from Taizé songs to an iPod mix of thoughtful or thought-provoking music like The Fray’s “You Found Me”). After they’ve had some time to write, draw, or circle places, ask them to share why they drew or wrote what they did. Then ask where they think God is in all the world’s scars.
  • Have youth draw temporary tattoos (any non-permanent marker pen will do fine) on their arm, wrist, or ankles. (Draw it on paper first. Some may choose not to draw on themselves — a valid choice that should be respected.) What mark would you draw that would describe your faith and your doubts in your life? What invisible scars do you have that you could make “visible”? Where does Jesus fit into this picture? Have them share as they are comfortable.

Closing Prayer

Jesus, you lived and died and live again, feeling in your own body how hard life can be. Help me see your love and grace in the midst of the entire world’s, and my own scars. Be patient with me, and accept my doubts even as you give me faith. Amen.