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May 20, 2012–Caps and Frowns

Contributed by Paul Henrickson, Salem, VA


Warm-up Questions

What if Jesus prayed for you?

  • Would it be the same as the prayer in John 17 which he prayed for his disciples?
  • Would he pray that you would be “sanctified?”
  • Would Jesus pray for your PROTECTION or for your PURIFICATION or both?

Caps and Frowns

Begin by reading following online articles about job prospects for new graduates.  Note the chart “Caps and Frowns:  Job prospects for the class of 2012.”

Whether you’re in high school or college, the employment outlook is not encouraging.  This raises some important questions for people of faith.

  • Would God really call us to be unemployed?
  • Do we need a broader understanding of “calling?”
  • How do faithful people respond to the “new economic reality?”
  • What is our true “vocation?”


Discussion Questions

  • What do you envision as your future?
  • What is your dream?
  • What are you planning to do after graduation from High School/College?
  • What is your calling?
  • Are you looking for security or meaning?
  • Do you want to be Protected or Purified?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 20, 2012 (Seventh Sunday of Easter)

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

1 John 5:9-13

John 17:6-19

(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 is part of the “Priestly Prayer” of Jesus in the 17th Chapter of John.  These four verses seem to sum up the core of the prayer of Jesus for his disciples – for Jesus’ disciples today:

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.*  They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth

There are three points worth noting:

We are IN the world, not OF the world.

  • We have been claimed by Christ to be those redeemed.
  • We are no longer under Satan’s rule (this world), but God’s rule.

We are protected.

  • “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
  •  The power of evil gets too little attention from today’s Christian.
  • From Luther’s Large Catechism: “If you could see how many daggers, spears, and  arrows are at every moment aimed at you, you would be glad to come to  the sacrament as often as possible.”

We are being “made holy.”

  • We have been “sanctified – made holy”  from Late Latin sanctificāre, from Latin sanctus holy + facere to make

Discussion Questions

  •  How would you live your life today if you really believed that God was doing His work on you to “make you holy?”
  • What does it mean for you to be IN the world not OF the world?

Activity Suggestions

  •  Write a prayer that Jesus might pray for you.
  • Imagine a day in your life where your sanctification was a 24 hour activity.
  • Read the newspaper and find places where sanctification is required.

Closing Prayer

There is no better prayer for protection and sanctification than Psalm 141.  In your group, slowly read the psalm together as a prayer, perhaps pausing briefly after each verse.  As you read, think of those who are in particular need of God’s care, and pray for them.

October 16, 2011–Gonna Serve Somebody

Contributed by Bob Chell, Brookings, SD

Warm-up Question

What do you want from your life’s work?

Gonna Serve Somebody

Forbes magazine (‘information for the world’s business leaders’ is how it defines itself) recently published a list of the Ten Most Hated Jobs and the Ten Happiest Jobs. It took me less than five minutes on Google to find competing lists where one person’s ‘happiest’ was listed as another persons most ‘hated.’

As our son headed off to the university this fall I paid close attention to the articles Time and Newsweek publish nearly every spring listing the best jobs—meaning those with high salaries and lots of job openings.

Whether it’s the happiest, the hated, or the best, chances are good you can find your career of choice on at least two out of the three lists.


Discussion Questions

  • Generations of young adults have despised the question, “What do you want to be/do when you graduate?”  How and why does the opening question above differ from this conversation stopper?
  • What is your greatest fear as you consider career options? Does your family raise your confidence or your anxiety as you contemplate your choices? Has anyone suggested how faith may shape your choice?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, October 16, 2011 (Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

 Isaiah 45:1-7

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Matthew 22:15-22

(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

As a college student I loved the liberal arts and feared the hard sciences. (There’s a reason they’re called hard sciences, I figured.) I loved essay tests and loathed multiple choice and fill in the blank which required me to know the answer. With essay tests if I had only the sketchiest notion of what the question was asking I began: This question is best answered by looking at the broad context… On the other hand, if I knew but one detail I would begin by writing: This question is best answered by examining a microcosm…. With essays I was in control and could lead the professor wherever I chose.

I loved the courses where there were no answers: philosophy, English literature, sociology, psychology. Any class where the teacher said, “Well, it could be this, but on the other hand…” Ah, ambiguity! It was precision I feared.

It was only when I became a campus pastor, and later when I married, that I realized what St. Paul meant about each of us having different gifts.  I married someone who loved the hard sciences; chemistry, math, biology; classes where there is one correct answer. Today she administers drugs which can kill or heal. Precision makes the difference and she gets the details right every time.

I love the diversity of students I work with as they discern where their personalities and passions (their gifts from God)  meet the wide variety of opportunities available to them.

You may wonder what this has to do with paying taxes (the issue in the gospel text). I think Dylan says it best. (For folks of my generation Bob Dylan always says it best.) In his song. Gotta Serve Somebody he writes

You may be a state trooper, you might be an young turk

You may be the head of some big TV network

You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame

You may be living in another country under another name.


But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes

You’re gonna have to serve somebody,

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Jesus told the Pharisees to give the coin to the emperor because it had the emperor’s image on it, and to give to God those things which were God’s. The Pharisees were detail people, masters of minutiae, and it sprang to mind immediately, where God’s image could be found. They knew what was to be given to God. They knew it by heart, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Gen. 1:27

You, too, have been created in the image of God and marked with the cross of Christ forever.

Discussion Questions

  •  Is God giving you a clue to your vocation hidden in your hobbies and interests? (For example,  if you love to figure your batting average you may be called to be a baseball player…or an accountant…or a statistics teacher…or a manager. You get the idea)
  • Where would your friends and family say your gifts and interests might lead you vocationally?
  • In Forbes’ list of the happiest and most hated jobs, most of the happiest were lower in salary and status than those which were hated. Does this surprise you? Just how important is money when choosing a career?
  • Lutheran’s celebrate two sacraments, places where Christ promises to be present: Holy Communion and Baptism. Can you name two other places Christ promises to meet us? (See Matt. 18:20 and Matt. 25:37-40 for two answers—are there others?)

Activity Suggestions

Ask each person in the group to make their own list of  five jobs they would most like to have and five which they most most hate.

  • Have each person share their list with at least one other person.  If your group is small, each can share with the whole group; you may want to break a large group into smaller groups.
  • Next, tally all the individual lists into group lists.  Is there a clear consensus on what is viewed as desirable and disgusting.
  • Look at the top jobs on each list; what characteristics do they share?  (For example, top jobs may pay well or offer a lot of flexibility in working hours, while unpopular jobs may pay poorly or involve a nasty work environment.

Closing Prayer

O God, we feel more confused than gifted when we think of the future. We love the security money which routine provides and are anxious about what it would mean for us if we trusted in you completely. Guide are hearts and minds as we explore the future and keep us open to those things which stretch our boundaries and push us to lean on your promises. Help us to let go of our comfortable security that we may grasp the exciting opportunities you call us to.  Amen.

February 17-23, 2010, Fighting Temptation With Purpose

Contributed by Angie Larson, Clive, IA

Warm-up Question

What do you think is your life’s purpose?

Fighting Temptation with Purpose


Shin Fujiyama, now 25, was born in a fishing village in Japan.  Born with a hole in his heart, he had childhood health problems.  The doctors told him that he didn’t have long to live. “Somehow I was cured,” says Shin, “and I became a normal kid and I had a second chance.”  Shin went on to study pre-medicine at the University of Mary Washington.

During his sophomore year at school, life took a dramatic change.  Along with his sister Cosmo, Shin signed up for a Christian mission trip to Honduras.  On this trip he found his life’s purpose.  The group did their mission work in the hurricane ransacked town of El Progreso.  Hundreds of children lived there without adequate housing, health care, or access to education. While the group was constructing a school, a ten year old girl named Carmen gave a letter to Shin.  It shared her dream that “one day every family in my village will have a safer home.”  This touched Shin greatly. 

Upon his return to college he and his sister began a philanthropic organization named Students Helping Honduras (SHH).  Shin began his fundraising campaign with two people, selling pens and pencils.  Anxious and frustrated about the poor response, he considered giving up, but his passion burned deep.  Next, the group moved to selling Christmas cards to provide uniforms and tuition for the community of El Progreso.  Since its inception in 2004, Shin has raised over $750,000 and SSH has grown to 25 campuses.  The group focuses on continuing to rebuild the village where Carmen lives. 

After graduating in 2007, Shin and Cosmo have postponed medical school and deferred well-paying jobs.  The mission of SSH is to build a movement of young leaders to empower orphaned and vulnerable children in Honduras. 

1. What would your reaction be if you received Carmen’s letter?

2.  Do you think Shin will ever go to medical school?

3.  What obstacles could get in the way of Shin’s fundraising?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, February 21, 2010 (First Sunday in Lent)

(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.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Romans 10:8b-13

Luke 4:1-13

Gospel Reflection

In Luke 3, just before the gospel text in this study, we get a glimpse of who Jesus really is.  During Jesus’ baptism the sky opens up and the Holy Spirit descends like a dove over the river Jordan. Accompanying the Spirit, the voice of God proclaims Jesus’ identification, “This is my Son.”

In this study’s gospel text, Jesus has just spent forty days in the wilderness.  The scripture says that, “He was famished.”  He is weakened by hunger and open to temptation.  The devil sees this as an opportune time and comes to Jesus.  He first tempts Jesus with bread.  However, Jesus has seen his purpose forty days before and can stay strong through the temptation.  Next the devil tempts Jesus with power; he shows him all that he can give Jesus authority over.  Again, Jesus stays strong.  Finally, the devil even tempts Jesus using scripture.  Jesus, strong in his purpose, is able to resist that temptation as well.

While your purposes are not the same as Jesus’, there is still a reason why you are here. When you have an understanding of your purpose it helps you fight the temptation to do something that would cause you to lose focus.  Your personal demons come out when you cease to be yourself.  Your identification, a child of God, is given to you in your baptism. When you have a clear understanding of your identification and purpose, you are better able to overcome the temptation which comes your way.  Temptation might be doubt or frustration.  It might be power, popularity, and material goods.  It might be messages from the world trying to get you to be or act in a way with which you are not comfortable.  May you fight temptation, knowing that you are a child of God and that God will carry you through.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does knowing your purpose keep you from temptation?
  2. What do you think are some ways that you can seek your purpose in life?
  3. What are some possible obstacles and roadblocks that could get in the way of accomplishing your purpose?


Activity Suggestions

  1. Challenge youth to seek out their purpose.  Ask them to make a list of things that give them great joy.  Have them pray about what God is calling them to do.
  2. Come up with a purpose of your group’s time together.  What is the goal?  How can you accomplish that purpose?
  3. Discuss the following story and what it might mean. In the story of Alice in Wonderland the Cheshire cat meets Alice crying at a crossroad.  The cat in his mysterious way asks Alice why she is crying.  Alice replies that she is lost.  The cat asks her, “Which way do you want to go”? “I don’t much care where,” replies Alice.  “Well then, it doesn’t matter which path you take,” replies the cat. 

Closing Prayer

Blessed Savior, thank you for helping us see how you direct us in our lives.  Help us to avoid roadblocks, temptations, and obstacles that may prevent or deter us from following you.  We know that you will provide us with strength to recognize those dangers and push the demons away, for we belong to you. In your name we pray.   Amen

October 14-21, 2009 – Grocery bagger with Down’s syndrome inspires hundreds

Contributed by Angie Larson
Clive, IA

Warm-up Question:  What would be the job that you would least want to have?

grocery-bags200Joe worked as a bagger at the local grocery store for nearly 7 years. Joe, age 25, has Down’s syndrome. He worked quietly and carefully placing groceries in bags and thanking customers for coming to shop. A bagger is not a particularly prestigious job, but Joe didn’t see it that way. He enjoyed serving. The manager of the store gathered together the employees for a sales pep talk. Joe, as a good employee, attended and listened intently. The manager encouraged all of the employees to take ownership and creativity in the grocery store and to each come up with an idea that would encourage and support their customers.

Joe left the store in search for an idea. He went home and talked to his father about putting an inspirational cartoon or quote in the customers’ bags as they left the store. Joe chose a quote and his father helped him copy and cut the quote into slips of paper so Joe could add them to the bags with the groceries. The next day at work Joe quietly slipped his thought for the day into the bags and passed them to the customers. It made Joe happy, and his customers too.

A couple of weeks later the manager of the grocery store was alarmed to see a line of 20 people in the lane where Joe was bagging. He opened up multiple lanes for people to move to. He was surprised when people wanted to remain in Joe’s lane to receive his inspirational quotes. One woman told the manager that she comes in every day to pick up something just to get Joe’s quote. Joe’s quiet kind service turned a mundane job and shopping experience into one of community and care. 

Discussion Questions

  • What’s your first reaction after reading this story?
  • Do you do something everyday that seems mundane and ordinary? How can you make it into something special and extraordinary?
  • Joe felt a passion for simple service and it inspired many. Who do you know that serves simply that gives them joy?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, October 18, 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 the gospel text, the disciples are experiencing rivalry within their community. The brothers James and John desire to rise to the right and left hand sides of Jesus in his kingdom. At this point, they do not realize what this means for them; they believe that Jesus’ kingdom will be some sort of kingdom on earth.

James’ and John’s blatant grabs for power create a conflict for the community of Jesus and the other ten disciples. When the other disciples hear this scramble for power and recognition, Jesus uses it as a teaching moment for them as well. Jesus teaches all twelve disciples that in order to be great you must be a servant. This concept must have been as hard for the disciples as it is for us today.

Jesus came to teach us how to serve each other — including strangers. Joe wanted to serve in his grocery store in a humble, subtle way that made a difference to hundreds of grocery shoppers. We are taught in our society, as in societies before us, that rising to power and rivalry is the way we get to the top and get recognized for our accomplishments. We sacrifice our values and sometimes our friendships to be able to be competitive and gain prestige or power. Joe didn’t care about prestige or power; he wanted to be able to serve the best he could. How many of us try to serve in all aspects of our lives by trying our best in humble, subtle ways?

“Jesus came not to be served,” as many would imagine of a great ruler and king, but he came “to serve”. Serving and repsecting others builds and strengthens community and does not divide people or pit them against each other. We are to go and do likewise and serve our neighbor.

Discussion Questions

  • How would you respond to James and John if you were one of the other disciples? Would you be drawn into the competition? Why or why not?
  • What is one mundane activity that you do daily? How can you use that to serve another?
  • Realistically, do you think you would be like Jesus, James, and John, or the other ten disciples?
  • How does the gospel and your faith guide you in how you treat and care for others? How you think about them? Does serving others come naturally, or does it pose challenges for you? Why?

Activity Suggestion

  • Take Joe’s example and be creative to reach out to those in your congregation and community. Develop a biblical quote of the week campaign. Prepare slips of paper with a favorite inspirational Bible verse. Pass out a few to each youth and ask them to pass it along to at least 20 other people. They can do this by slipping the verse to a few people, copying it into a text message, or putting the verse on someone’s Facebook wall. Check in the next time you meet to see how it went.
  • Create a list of occupations. List anything: from rocket scientist to farmer to tollway attendant to waitstaff at a restaurant. Ask youth to brainstorm how they could serve others in a creative and meaningful way for those occupations… in any occupation. Talk about the concept of vocation and what God is calling each of us to do with our particular skills, abilities, and interests.

Closing Prayer

Blessed Savior, thank you for serving us. Help us to remember to serve others. We know that at times we look for power and prestige, but 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 humble way. In your name we pray. Amen.

September 2-9, 2009 – Edward Kennedy’s death marks end of an era

Contributed by Sylvia Alloway
Granada Hills, CA

Warm-up Question:  Think about a person you admire very much, living or dead. Suppose you were called upon to write a tribute to that person’s life and accomplishments. What would you say? 

Senator Edward Kennedy

Senator Edward Kennedy

Senator Edward Kennedy, the last son of what was once called a “dynasty,” died August 25th after a year-long battle with brain cancer. He was 77. Like his slain bothers, John and Robert, Edward, nicknamed Teddy, was known for his charisma, his strong opinions, and his far-reaching political influence. He was re-elected to the Senate nine times by Massachusetts voters and once made an unsuccessful attempt at a presidential nomination.

The Senator’s career spanned the time between the idealistic years of JFK’s presidency and the disillusionment that followed the Vietnam War. He considered it his mission to maintain and advance the progress in civil rights, relief for the poor, fair wages, and equal rights for women begun by his brothers. His most recent efforts were directed at the passing of President Obama’s healthcare bill.

For all his accomplishments, one large blot remains on Senator Kennedy’s record: the drowning death of a young woman in a car he had been driving when it crashed through a bridge. Rumors persist that he used money and influence to avoid charges of negligence in her death.

Friends and relatives gathered for a “Celebration of Life” at the John F. Kennedy library, which included speeches by Senator John McCain, Vice President Joseph Biden and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg. President Barack Obama will deliver the eulogy at the funeral Mass at The Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Boston, where the service for Kennedy will take place. 

Discussion Questions

  • In your opinion what qualities make a person admirable and worthy of praise? Which of these qualities do you think Senator Kennedy had? Which did he not have?
  • When a person dies, should we talk only about the good things they did, or should we include their mistakes? Why do you think as you do?
  • If you had great political power, what would you use it to accomplish? Why? What would happen after that?
  • For more mature students: Can putting in place the right political institutions (assistance for the poor, universal health care, etc.) help us to become better citizens? Why or why not? If they can’t, what can?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, September 6, 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 Gospels portray many sides of Jesus’ ministry and personality. In today’s lesson, we see Jesus the celebrity. But he is not like other public figures. He does not seek or want fame or fortune. He has none of the trappings — no money, no style, no ego, and no fancy mansion. He is simply obeying his Father — the one who sent him (Mark 9:37) — fulfilling the destiny predicted for him (Isaiah 35:5-6a).

But word gets around, even when Jesus warns those he has healed not to talk about it. His fame has spread among the Gentiles and a Greek woman comes to him for help, seeking the healing of her daughter possessed by an unclean spirit. She proves herself more willing to receive Jesus’ message than many Jews, correctly perceiving the scope of his mission. She is persistent and pushes back at Jesus with a sharp response that even the Gentile “dogs” (a slur used by observant Jews at the time) can receive attention and healing from the Messiah.

The deaf and dumb man, too, gets personal attention from none other than the Lord of glory. According to Isaiah, these actions prove that Jesus is the Chosen One through whom we see the power and presence of God. But in these same acts, we also see his caring heart and love for even the humblest of people.

Today’s Psalm tells us to “Praise the Lord (Psalm 146:1),” and “Do not put your trust in princes (Psalm 146:3).” Political leaders, no matter how well-known and well-intentioned, make mistakes, misuse their power, fall, and disappoint. The people who were healed in today’s lesson knew whom to praise and where to put their trust. Jesus did not fail them, nor will he fail us. As he has compassion on us, let us have compassion on others. As we put aside personal fame, attention, and admiration to help people living in hunger, poverty, illness, and injustice, let us show them the One in whom we trust and sends us — Jesus — so that they may believe and follow him, too.

Discussion Questions

  • Go back to your list of admirable qualities. Which of these does Jesus show in today’s lesson?
  • Are there any attributes you might add as you look at Jesus’ behavior?
  • How can we develop these qualities in our own lives?
  • Jesus did not seek personal accomplishment, fame, money, or power, the very things society and pop culture tells us are most worthwhile. We are to live like Jesus. What should our mission and goals be as we live out the Christian life? How can we attain them in a world that often does not understand or approve of gospel-centered actions and values?

Activity Suggestions

Activity 1:  Individually, or as a class, list the gospel-centered goals you talked about in question #4. Then list some concrete life goals (study law, write songs, marry and have children, travel, make pizza, etc.). Verbally or in writing, describe how spiritual goals connect with the practical, for instance, how might you practice humility as lawyer? Serve others as a songwriter? Etc.

  • Check out the ELCA Imagine Yourself young adult Web site and what it has to share about vocation, life, and “being who God created you to be!”

Activity 2:  In groups, take the list of desired traits (the groups may add some if they wish) and rank them in order of importance in living a life of Christian witness and service. Discuss why you ranked them as you did. Choose one or two individuals from each group to report to the class on how they ordered the traits and why. This activity may also be done as a discussion with entire class. Note and respect the variations of opinion and decisions between groups or individuals.

Suggested Songs

  • “Here I Am, Lord,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #574
  • “Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love,” ELW, #708
  • “Take My Life That I May Be,” ELW, #685
  • “When the Poor Ones,” ELW, #725
  • “One Bread, One Body,” ELW, #496

Closing Prayer

Almighty God, our Father, all we have comes from you and without you we are nothing. Re-form our desires and goals, so that we may live the abundant life you have for us — a life of selflessness, service, generosity, and joy. We pray this in the name of your blessed Son whose example we follow — Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.