Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

Faith Lens

July 28-August 3, 2010–When I’m 60 I’ll Get Around to That

Contributed by Jay Gamelin, Pastor of Jacob’s Porch, Lutheran campus mission to The Ohio State University.

Warm-up Question

 What would you do with ten million dollars?  Go ahead, fantasize away!  Try and be honest.

When I’m 60, I’ll Get Around to That

Something happened to Bill and Melinda Gates.  After the Gates amassed many billions of dollars founding Microsoft and creating Windows software, the two asked themselves what all this wealth was for.  Building more houses, buying more companies, and creating more wealth seemed hollow.

It was then they met Bono, the lead singer for the band U2.  Often outspoken on behalf of the poor, Bono challenged the Gates to understand the challenge of “stupid poverty”, that is, the people who die for want of a $2 pill because they live on $1 a day.  This was enough to draw Gates away from Microsoft years before he intended to shift his focus from making money to giving it away. He and Melinda looked around and recognized the shortcoming of the way in which the world values wealth and its distribution. “Those lives were being treated as if they weren’t valuable,” Gates told FORTUNE in 2002. “Well, when you have the resources that could make a very big impact, you can’t just say to yourself, ‘O.K., when I’m 60, I’ll get around to that. Stand by.'”

So rather than continuing to amass more wealth, the Gates family began to give it away.  With a foundation that is now worth over 30 billion (yes, with a “B”) dollars and growing from a generous contribution from Warren Buffet, the wealthiest man in the world matches all gifts given by the foundation to the tune of another 30 billion dollars.  The fund focuses on ending poverty in the poorest countries and fighting HIV-AIDS and avoidable diseases in the world’s poorest economies.

The Gates saw wealth, not as an end, but as a means to an end, a way they can contribute to ending poverty in this lifetime.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever faced need and not been able to get what you needed?  If you have, how did this feel? 
  • If you have not, imagine what it would feel like to see extravagant wealth somewhere else while you were hungry?  What would you do to support your family?  What if you were not able to do this?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, August 1, 2010 (Tenth Sunday after Pentecost)

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23

Colossians 3:1-11

Luke 12:13-21

(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 not a lesson about whether or not it is evil to be rich. It is not about creating a guilt trip for those who have.  Nor is it a commendation to be poor.  Poverty is not in itself a value we should embrace.  This is a lesson about questions, the ones we ask ourselves when we have.

The Gates figured out that they had much.  They had amassed a staggering fortune, in fact larger than some national economies.  They had built extravagant homes, formed companies, bought more, and done more.  Yet, despite it all, they still had much.  At this point they had to ask themselves a question: Do we continue to try to grow a fortune or decide that the value is not in possessing wealth but giving it away?  They, of course, answered the call and are now considered two of the biggest philanthropists in the world.

Perhaps it is easy to hold up the Gates family, they have so much to give.  They could give away 90% of their income and still be considered extremely wealthy.  With such wealth, perhaps giving it away is rather painless.  But more than the amount, it was the decision that we focus upon.  They faced a difficult question and answered it the best way they could.

In the text, the rich man has amassed a fortune.  Seeing his fortune grow, he was forced to ask what to do next.  His decision was to build another barn, store more food.  We can see the story and say, “Well, I would never do this!  If I were rich I would give it away!” Would you give it away?  Are you rich?  These are questions to ask yourself: How many outfits do you need in your closet to clothe yourself nicely for a week?  How many pairs of shoes do you possess?  How many cars do you need to own?  How big a house do you really “need”?  How much do you need to eat?  Do you really need that second TV?  Is cable necessary?  How many drinking glasses do you have in your home and how many mouths?

But you might say, “But this means I need to account for every dollar I spend!”  Yes, you do.  We need to be confronted with our own wealth and understand that we are the rich man.  The average American spends enough in a year on food to feed a village in other parts of the world.  This should stop us short in our tracks.

Again, this is not about guilt for being rich.  It is about important questions: What do we have?  What are we doing with it?  What are we doing to help?  What more can we do?  These are the questions rich Christians such as we who read this study, downloaded from the internet on our expensive computers, can and should ask themselves everyday—for  tomorrow our lives are required of us and do not belong to us.  Let us use our riches to lift up others.  In this we become rich in God and not to ourselves.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you think you owe anything to anyone else if you are rich?  Why or why not? 
  • What advantages do you think someone like Bill Gates may have had as opposed to a person in a third world country?  What advantages did he have in schooling and in the infrastructure of this country?
  • What obstacles might a person in a third world country face? How much more difficult is it to give them a hand-up to achieve?

Let’s ask the question again: What would you do with ten million dollars?  What would be OK to keep?  What would be OK to give away?  How much is enough to live on?  How much is enough to give away?

Activity Suggestions

“WHAT’S IN YOUR WALLET?”:  To avoid embarrassment, let read ahead and describe the activity.  Find a volunteer to either empty her purse, a back pack, or take everything out of his pockets.  Take a look at what is in there.  Look at what is in the wallet or purse as if you were an anthropologist or perhaps an archeologist.  If you did not know this person, what could you tell about him or her?

Now look at these things as an economist.  Which of these things are necessary for life?  Which are “extra” things?  Which would this person not miss?  Which would they miss?

PROCESS:  We all have things in our lives and there are some things we need and some we do not.  Our hope is that what we have can be used not only for ourselves but to support others, all for the glory of God.  The commercial says, “What’s in your wallet?”  I think it is a good question—what does what I have say about me? What can I use these things for?  How can they support others beyond me?

Closing Prayer

For all that you have given us, thank you God.  Teach us to be blessings of the abundance you have blessed us with.  May we be more and more like you.  AMEN.


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.

October 7-14, 2009 — A free market

Contributed by Jocelyn Breeland
Fairfax, VA 

Warm-up Question: Do any of the things you own make you sad? Do any of them consume a lot of your time?

money-bag200Michael Moore’s latest documentary, “Capitalism: A Love Story,” is a continuation of the award-winning filmmaker’s attack on the system that defines the U.S. economy. In it, he looks at the winners and losers in the latest chapter of our economic drama — the financial collapse of late 2008.

Those familiar with Moore’s previous films will recognize his theatrical attempts to show how the wealthy ignore the ordinary people they exploit. In “Roger & Me,” the documentary that made Moore famous, he pursued GM CEO Roger B. Smith, while showing how Smith’s decision to move manufacturing jobs to Mexico devastated GM workers in Moore’s hometown of Flint, Michigan. In “Bowling for Columbine,” Moore contrasted people who promote and enjoy firearms with victims of gun violence. “Fahrenheit 911,” a look at the events following the September 11 terrorist attacks, frames the decision to go to war in Iraq in terms of the petroleum interests of President Bush’s family and Saudi Arabian royals. “Sicko” looked at the winners and losers in the American health care system.

Together, Moore’s films have grossed nearly $200 million and his combination of humor and shocking contrasts have brought a new audience to the documentary genre. For example, one scene in “Capitalism” has Moore setting up police crime scene tape on Wall Street at the site of a “crime” against American taxpayers. At another point, the film asks “When did Jesus become a capitalist?”

Despite his success, there are many who criticize Moore’s politics and his methods. He has agreed with the criticism that “Capitalism: A Love Story” oversimplifies by labeling capitalism evil. However, he said, “…if I tell you that there’s a home foreclosed on every seven and a half seconds, you need to know that that’s absolutely true.”

Michael Moore is a man who enjoys stirring up controversy, and he would appear to have succeeded once again.

(Note: You’ll find good background material for this Faith Lens discussion and lesson in the ELCA Statement on “Economic Life: Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood for All“.)

Discussion Questions

(Note: Leaders should be prepared to discuss capitalism in general terms. However, for the purposes of this discussion, student perceptions of the role of businesses, workers, and markets are as valid as any.)

  1. Have you seen any of Michael Moore’s films? Would you like to? Why, or why not?
  2. What’s capitalism?
  3. Looking at Moore’s subjects — jobs sent overseas, the Iraq war, health care, and the financial meltdown — is capitalism itself really the problem or cause? What else may contribute to these problems?
  4. Given that Moore’s films have made him a very wealthy man, is his criticism of capitalism hypocritical? What would you do in his shoes?
  5. Can capitalists be faithful, generous, compassionate Christians?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, October 11, 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

Do we need to be poor to be saved? Does God have something against the wealthy? Sometimes, it seems that way, and today’s Gospel is one of those times.

A man asks Jesus what he must do to be saved. Jesus’ first answer is simple enough: obey the commandments. The man says he’s done exactly that his whole life, but he believes there must be something more. The next step, Jesus tells him, is to sell all his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. The man goes away, despondent. It’s as if he realizes the price of salvation is too high.

The disciples ask a question that resonates today. If it’s that hard, how can any of us be saved? The answer in this case, as we see time and again throughout the New Testament, is that we cannot earn our own salvation. If we must deserve to be saved, then we are all doomed.

The truth is that Jesus, through his sacrifice on the cross and resurrection, has earned salvation for all of us — it’s a gift. And because God has provided for all our needs, we don’t need to rely on or obsess about material possessions for our safety, security, consolation, acceptance, or identity.

Instead, God wants us to separate ourselves from the things and stuff in life that distract us from Jesus, the gift of salvation, and living as humble servants of others. From a current world point of view, this can be a very big sacrifice. It can mean standing against the flow of pop culture, persuasive marketing, and social pressures. However, Jesus assures us that all who make the sacrifices are following God’s desires for humanity and participating in the vision of creation that God holds up for us. Jesus reminds us that living simply and being generous with others isn’t for the sake of getting something really great in return; it’s about trusting in the gift of new life we have received and living as thankful people.

Discussion Questions

(Note: Don’t forget that there are probably a variety of family and economic contexts within the group of young people participating. Some may be very sensitive and painful. The point of the discussion is not to neatly organize everything into a good or bad category, but to reflect on the life that we have been set free to live in the gospel and the challenges it may pose.)

  • Is it possible to be wealthy and be saved?
  • Consider the ways you might acquire wealth. Is it possible to do so while obeying God’s will and being faithful in living a life of humble compassionate justice as Jesus did?
  • In what ways does the gospel message and Jesus’ example ask us to change how we go about everyday life and business?
  • Often in disasters (earthquakes, fires, floods) people lose all their possessions. Can this be good news for their faith?
  • Do rich and poor people view their faith differently?
  • How does Jesus’ view of wealth affect your career and lifestyle choices?

Activity Suggestion

Design an economic system that is consistent with your faith. You may choose to simply make modifications to our existing system, for example, to eliminate homelessness, ensure universal access to medical care, or find employment for everyone (if you believe these are imperatives of your faith). Or, you may choose to create a whole new system from scratch.

  • Will your system work only in the United States?
  • How will you convince others to join your new system?
  • What are the benefits of it for communities? Individuals? Families?
  • What might be the weak spots in it that you’ll have to work on?
  • How does it reflect your faith and beliefs?

Write a brief description of your system and post it as a comment on the Faith Lens blog. Read and comment on the responses of other groups.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, thank you for providing for our needs and sometimes our “wants,” the stuff that we enjoy but could live without. Help us to remember that the only thing we cannot live without is your gracious love and endless mercy. Everything we have is a gift from you, and we work every day to share that gift with others. Teach us to be untiring in our love for each other and fearless in our generosity with others. We pray for the wisdom and strength to follow Christ’s example. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.