Faith Lenshttp://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/FaithLens/The Key to Forgiveness, September 7, 2014John Hougen, Elkins Park, PAhttp://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/FaithLens/259http://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/FaithLens/259<div class="ExternalClass5CE0E4251AF3490EBAA393C08B3076AA"><p>​</p><h2>Warm-up Question</h2><p>As you begin to think about forgiving and receiving forgiveness, can you name three things people do or say that make forgiveness more difficult and three things people do or say that make forgiveness more likely?</p><p><br><span style="font-size&#58;10.5pt;color&#58;#222222;font-family&#58;georgia;"></span> </p><h2>The Key to Forgiveness<br></h2> <p>Has a friend betrayed or disappointed you? Have you said or done something that offended someone close to you? Has there been conflict in your family, school, workplace, congregation or neighborhood? </p><p><img src="http://search.elca.org/blogs/SiteAssets/Lists/Faith%20Lens/mod-view/reconciliationedit.jpg" alt="reconciliationedit.jpg" style="margin&#58;5px;vertical-align&#58;text-bottom;" />If you answered “no” to all these questions, then you are not paying attention. For, disruptions in relationships (some minor, some major) are inevitable and frequent. Opportunities to forgive and be forgiven are within our reach on a daily basis. Yet, forgiveness remains one of the most difficult and elusive of human interactions. </p><p>Family members can go decades without speaking. Hurt feelings can end valued friendships. The inability to forgive oneself or accept God’s forgiveness can cause persistent guilt or shame which are root causes of anxiety, anger, and depression, all of which can lead to additional conflict with others. Cycles of violence between ethnic groups and nations seem never-ending, and millions have died in wars because the war before solved nothing. Think about the headlines&#58;&#160; Gaza, Ukraine, ISIS, Afghanistan.</p><p>The stakes are high for ourselves, for those around us, and for the survival of humanity&#58; it is urgent that we (as individuals, families, friends, colleagues, congregations, communities, and nations) get better at giving and receiving forgiveness.&#160;&#160; </p> <h2>Discussion Questions</h2><ul><span style="font-family&#58;&quot;segoe ui&quot;,&quot;segoe&quot;,tahoma,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;"><li>Do you agree that forgiveness is as important and urgent as the above paragraphs suggest? Why or why not?</li><li>If anyone is familiar with efforts to bring about forgiveness among Israelis and Palestinians, or black and white citizens of South Africa, or immigrants and native born citizens in the USA (or other conflicts at home or abroad), let them inform the rest of the group. Then, discuss to what degree those efforts have been successful.&#160; </li><li>If you trust your discussion group with the information, give an example from your own life of when you have given or received forgiveness; or share the story of an unresolved conflict, seeking the group's advice about what you might do to move toward ending the conflict through forgiveness.&#160; </li></span></ul><p><br></p><h2>Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, September 7 (Time after Pentecost, Lectionary 23)</h2><p><a href="http&#58;//bible.oremus.org/?ql=275382451">Ezekiel 33&#58;7-11</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//bible.oremus.org/?ql=275382569">Romans 13&#58;8-14</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//bible.oremus.org/?ql=275382615">Matthew 18&#58;15-20&#160;</a></p><p>(Text links are to <a href="http&#58;//bible.oremus.org/">Oremus Bible Browser</a>. 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 <a href="http&#58;//www.elca.org/Growing-In-Faith/Worship/Lectionary.aspx">Lectionary Readings</a>.)</p><p>For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic <a href="http&#58;//www.agnusday.org/">Agnus Day.</a></p><p>&#160;</p><h2>Gospel Reflection</h2><p style="text-align&#58;justify;"><span style="font-family&#58;&quot;segoe ui&quot;,&quot;segoe&quot;,tahoma,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;">To this day, the steps found in Matthew 18&#58; 15 – 17 are the basis for resolving conflicts in Christian congregations. (For example, see the ELCA's Model Constitution for Congregations, Chapter 15&#58; &quot;Discipline of Members and Adjudication,&quot; <a href="http&#58;//www.elca.org/Resources/Office-of-the-Secretary">http&#58;//www.elca.org/Resources/Office-of-the-Secretary</a>.) While each step in the process provides the opportunity for resolution, if it does not occur, the final step is for the offending party to be removed from the congregation. Verse 17 indicates how deep such divisions become&#58; &quot;Let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.&quot; These words reflect the feelings of a faction within the early church that despised Gentiles and tax collectors, and thought they should be avoided like the plague. </span></p><p style="text-align&#58;justify;"><span style="font-family&#58;&quot;segoe ui&quot;,&quot;segoe&quot;,tahoma,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;">This is not what God wants. Jesus, the surest interpreter of God's will, does not avoid Gentiles. (Gentiles are non-Jews, like most of us reading this blog). Jesus' last words to his disciples, according to the Gospel of Matthew, are that they should &quot;make disciples of all nations&quot; (Jews <span style="text-decoration&#58;underline;">and</span> Gentiles). The Book of Acts records how Christianity grew beyond its Jewish roots to include Gentiles. (See especially Acts 9&#58; 15 and 10&#58; 34 – 48.) </span></p><p style="text-align&#58;justify;">And, Jesus befriended tax collectors, most notably Matthew and Zacchaeus. Jesus called Matthew to be part of his inner circle (Matthew 9&#58; 9 – 13) and singles Zacchaeus out of a crowd, inviting himself to his house for dinner (Luke 19&#58; 1- 10). Followers of Jesus will not want to treat anyone as verse 17 suggests. Instead, we will do our best to resolve conflict by giving and receiving forgiveness. </p><p style="text-align&#58;justify;"><span style="font-family&#58;&quot;segoe ui&quot;,&quot;segoe&quot;,tahoma,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;">The <strong>key to forgiveness</strong> is found in verse 20. There Jesus says, &quot;Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.&quot; </span></p><p style="text-align&#58;justify;"><span style="font-family&#58;&quot;segoe ui&quot;,&quot;segoe&quot;,tahoma,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;">In the Bible, names are very important, often revealing the connection of the name's bearer to God's work in the world. (&quot;Jesus&quot; literally means &quot;God saves / delivers.&quot;) To gather <em>in the name of Jesus</em> means to be bound to Jesus in love, and committed to speak and act as Jesus <em>the deliverer</em> would speak and act. </span></p><p style="text-align&#58;justify;"><span style="font-family&#58;&quot;segoe ui&quot;,&quot;segoe&quot;,tahoma,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;">&quot;Where two or three are gathered in my name&quot; is followed by &quot;I am there among them.&quot; Jesus asserts that he is present when two or three (or more) are gathered in his name. If the accuser and accused in verse 15 gather in the name of Jesus, or the small group in verse 16, or the larger group in verse 17, then Jesus will be present and the gathering (with Jesus there to guide and inspire) will find a way into forgiveness, to <em>deliver</em> all from whatever has divided them. </span></p><p style="text-align&#58;justify;"><span style="font-family&#58;&quot;segoe ui&quot;,&quot;segoe&quot;,tahoma,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;">The other three readings assigned today teach us <em>how</em> to gather in the name of Jesus. Ezekiel 33&#58; <span style="text-decoration&#58;underline;">trust </span>that God wants us to reach out to sinners (i.e. to all at fault in conflicts). Psalm 119&#58; <span style="text-decoration&#58;underline;">strive</span> to learn and follow God's commandments. Romans 13&#58; <span style="text-decoration&#58;underline;">love</span> our neighbors as ourselves. Trusting our calling to resolve conflict, striving to follow God's will, and doing all we do in love bring us closer to unity with Christ, in whom and through whom we are empowered to give and receive forgiveness.&#160;&#160; </span></p><p style="text-align&#58;justify;"><br><span style="font-family&#58;georgia;"></span></p><h2>Discussion Questions</h2> <ul><li><p>Matthew 18&#58; 17 suggests that sometimes conflicts are impossible to resolve and the best possible outcome is for those in conflict to avoid one another. Matthew 18&#58;21 -22 (look it up!) teaches that we should keep forgiving indefinitely. Which teaching is more compelling? Which is most practical? Which is consistent with what you know about Jesus? </p></li></ul><ul><li><p>What are the signs that a conflict has been truly resolved and forgiveness has been genuinely given and received?</p></li></ul><ul><li><p>If you have felt the presence of Jesus among you when gathered in his name to worship or serve, describe those feelings. If you have not felt Jesus’ presence, do you think it is possible that, in spite of your lack of awareness, Jesus might have been present anyway, as promised in Matthew 18&#58; 20?&#160; </p></li></ul> <p>&#160;</p> <h2>Activity Suggestions</h2><p>&#160;Role play resolving a conflict following the steps outlined in today’s gospel. One person can be the “offender.” Another can be the one offended who takes the first step toward reconciliation. Others can be brought in to help and each should be assigned a point of view based on a Bible passage. (Use the passages from Ezekiel, Psalm 119, and Romans 13, plus other texts from Matthew 18&#58; verses 10 – 14; 21 – 22; and 23 - 35.) The role play should be done twice&#58; once with forgiveness obtained, and once with the exclusion of the guilty party. After role playing, debrief. What advice would you give to someone who wants to intervene in a conflict and help move it toward resolution? Is your advice Biblically based or does it come from some other source of wisdom? </p><h2><span style="font-size&#58;17.3333px;font-family&#58;&quot;segoe ui&quot;,&quot;segoe&quot;,tahoma,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;">Closing Prayer</span></h2><p>Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.</p><span style="font-size&#58;10.5pt;color&#58;#222222;font-family&#58;georgia;"></span><p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom&#58;7.5pt;line-height&#58;15pt;vertical-align&#58;top;"><span style="font-size&#58;10.5pt;font-family&#58;verdana;color&#58;#222222;"><br></span><a href="http&#58;//www.elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/FaithLens/254#sthash.IusMpKYT.dpuf"><span style="font-size&#58;10.5pt;font-family&#58;verdana;"></span></a><span style="font-size&#58;10.5pt;font-family&#58;verdana;color&#58;#222222;"></span></p> <p><br></p></div>08/19/2014Faith Lens on Summer Hiatusfaith lenshttp://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/FaithLens/256http://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/FaithLens/256<div class="ExternalClassB1A52531040744FBA0286A84A523B9A1"><p>​</p><h2>Don't despair!</h2><h2>Faith Lens is just taking a summer hiatus.&#160; It will be back in the fall.</h2><p>&#160;</p><h3><a href="http&#58;//blogs.elca.org/faithlens/files/2014/01/shutterstock_124884124edit.jpg" data-mce-href="http&#58;//blogs.elca.org/faithlens/files/2014/01/shutterstock_124884124edit.jpg"><img class="alignleft wp-image-5052" alt="shutterstock_124884124edit" src="http&#58;//blogs.elca.org/faithlens/files/2014/01/shutterstock_124884124edit.jpg" data-mce-src="http&#58;//blogs.elca.org/faithlens/files/2014/01/shutterstock_124884124edit.jpg" data-mce-style="margin&#58; 5px;" style="margin&#58;5px;width&#58;140px;" /></a>The next posting will be on September 2 for the gospel lesson which accompanies the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (September 7).</h3><p>&#160;</p><p>&#160;</p><p>&#160;</p><p>&#160;</p><h3>When Faith Lens returns it will be right here&#58;&#160; <a href="http&#58;//elca.org/faithlens/blog" data-mce-href="http&#58;//elca.org/faithlens/blog">elca.org/faithlens/blog </a></h3></div>06/09/2014Just BreatheContributed by Aaron Matson, Waterton, SDhttp://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/FaithLens/254http://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/FaithLens/254<div class="ExternalClass0D324F472DD24D05B65FEE41A5D8590F"><h3>Warm-up Question</h3><p>Have you ever had the wind knocked out of you (literally or figuratively) or felt like you could not breathe?</p><h3>Just Breathe</h3><p><img src="http://search.elca.org/blogs/SiteAssets/Lists/Faith%20Lens/AllItems/shutterstock_151136963edit.jpg" alt="shutterstock_151136963edit.jpg" style="margin&#58;5px;width&#58;175px;height&#58;263px;" /><br></p><p>I suffered from asthma through childhood. While my case was not as severe as some others, there were times when I could not breathe, and needed the help of an inhaler. A few other times, in the course of playing sports with my friends, I had the wind knocked out of me through some extreme contact with someone or something (like the ground). From these experiences, I can tell you that anytime you cannot breathe, it is a scary experience. Breathing is just one of those things we take for granted and do without thinking.&#160; When we cannot do this thing which we normally do naturally and&#160; is so essential for life it is&#160; distressing indeed.</p><p>While not everyone has had the wind knocked out of them, or been unable to breathe due to asthma, everyone, at some point of their life will have the breath knocked out of them emotionally or spiritually. Everyone will be faced with a moment of crisis or loss in their life that takes the wind right out of them – the loss of a loved one, the end of a close relationship, a broken heart, not getting that expected job or scholarship that your heart was set on. In those times, it is common for those trying to comfort us to say, “Relax, and just breathe.”</p><p>&#160;</p><h3>Discussion Questions</h3><p>When&#160; have you had the breath knocked out of you emotionally or spiritually? If you haven’t experienced a time like this yet, has someone you know had those times? How have others supported you or how have you helped others to “breathe?”</p><h3>Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, June 8, 2014 (Day of Pentecost)</h3><p><a data-mce-href="http&#58;//bible.oremus.org/?ql=268120245" href="http&#58;//bible.oremus.org/?ql=268120245">Acts 2&#58;1-21</a><br data-mce-bogus="1"></p><p><a data-mce-href="http&#58;//bible.oremus.org/?ql=268120285" href="http&#58;//bible.oremus.org/?ql=268120285">1 Corinthians 12&#58;3b-13</a><br data-mce-bogus="1"></p><p><a data-mce-href="http&#58;//bible.oremus.org/?ql=268120333" href="http&#58;//bible.oremus.org/?ql=268120333">John 20&#58;19-23</a><br data-mce-bogus="1"></p><p>(Text links are to <a data-mce-href="http&#58;//bible.oremus.org/" href="http&#58;//bible.oremus.org/">Oremus Bible Browser</a>. 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 <a data-mce-href="http&#58;//www.elca.org/Growing-In-Faith/Worship/Lectionary.aspx" href="http&#58;//www.elca.org/Growing-In-Faith/Worship/Lectionary.aspx">Lectionary Readings</a>.)</p><p>For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic <a data-mce-href="http&#58;//www.agnusday.org/" href="http&#58;//www.agnusday.org/">Agnus Day.</a><br data-mce-bogus="1"></p><p>&#160;</p><h3>Gospel Reflection</h3><p>In the gospel reading from John 20, we see Jesus’ first disciples have had the wind knocked out of them. They have been through Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, and even though Easter had just happened, and a couple of them had witnessed the empty tomb, they were hiding behind locked doors out of fear – and I imagine some continuing shock and grief. Into this scene, all of a sudden, Jesus appears. To these, fearful, lifeless, and breathless disciples, Jesus gives peace, joy, and a mission (“As the father sent me, so I send you.” 20&#58;21).</p><p>Lastly, and most important, Jesus gives the disciples his breath, and in that breath he gives them the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ breathing on the disciples is reminiscent of how God breathed the breath of life into the nostrils of the first man in Genesis 2. Just as God’s breath gave life to man in Genesis, Jesus’ breath of the Holy Spirit gave the lifeless and breathless disciples new life.&#160; That same breath of Holy Spirit given to the first disciples by the resurrected Jesus was also given to each of us in our baptism. In those times where we feel the wind, or breath, has been knocked out of us, we can draw peace and strength from the breath of life give to us in the Holy Spirit. We can “just breathe,” knowing that it is not up to us to breathe on our own – but God gives us the Holy Spirit to comfort us and help us, and in the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 8, intercede for us, “with sighs too deep for words.”</p><h3>Discussion Questions</h3><p>Have you ever experienced a time where you have needed some help “breathing” and felt the breath of the Holy Spirit help and comfort you?</p><h3>Activity Suggestions</h3><p>This passage from John is called “John’s Pentecost story.” Compare this passage from John with the more famous Pentecost story from Acts 2. What are the similarities and differences between the two?</p><h3>Closing Prayer</h3><p>Life-giving God, breathe into us again that holy and life-giving spirit. In those times when we cannot breathe, help us to feel your Holy Spirit breathe new life into us again. Help us to share the good news of the risen Jesus with others, so that they may know the peace of this Spirit, and the breath of new life you have given us. Amen.</p></div>06/06/2014December 8, 2013–Critical Choicesfaithlens http://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/FaithLens/239http://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/FaithLens/239<div class="ExternalClass21C038793215443F96783080C54A6F86"><p>​Contributed by Jocelyn Breeland, location Fairfax, VA</p><h3>Warm-up Question</h3><p>Should a woman with Down Syndrome be allowed to decide where she will live?</p><h3>Critical Choices</h3><p>Jenny Hatch had a job she loved and had found a new place to live. Her parents had other ideas, but like most other 29-year-olds, Jenny thought her wishes should take precedence. However, because Jenny has Down Syndrome, it wasn’t that simple.</p><p><span id="part1"><span><a href="http&#58;//blogs.elca.org/faithlens/files/2013/12/shutterstock_128394041edit.jpg"><img width="250" height="167" src="http&#58;//blogs.elca.org/faithlens/files/2013/12/shutterstock_128394041edit.jpg" alt="shutterstock_128394041edit" class="size-full wp-image-4940 alignright ms-rte-paste-setimagesize" style="margin-top&#58;10px;margin-bottom&#58;10px;" /></a></span></span></p><p>Jenny’s mother and stepfather, Julia and Richard Ross, petitioned a court to be declared guardians of their adult daughter. They wanted to decide where she lived, what medical treatment she received, and who she could see. They felt Jenny would be safest living in a group home.</p><p>Jenny had lived in several group homes and didn’t like them. She said they treated her like a child and took away her cell phone and computer. Jenny wanted to live with Kelly Morris and Jim Talbert, friends who also employed Jenny at their thrift shop.</p><p>Many people with disabilities find group homes to be a useful option. The best group homes provide needed services for people with disabilities, while supporting their right to make decisions concerning where they live and work, their relationships, and the community activities in which they will participate.&#160; Jenny, however, did not believe a group home was the best choice for her.</p><p>In the end, a judge in Newport News VA ruled that, while Jenny could not live alone, her preferences should be considered. The judge named Morris and Talbert Jenny’s temporary guardians.</p><p>Disability rights activists are hailing this as a landmark decision. They hope that other courts will recognize that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities like Jenny can make decisions for themselves.</p><h3>Discussion Questions</h3><ul><li>Are Jenny’s parents right to be concerned for her welfare?</li><li>Jenny Hatch is said to have an IQ of 50. Based on this, do you believe there should be limits on her ability to make choices about where she lives,who her friends are, and how she spends her free time, including her access to a computer or cell phone.</li><li>People with disabilities face many barriers to inclusion in community activities and often require accommodation or support. How open is your congregation to people with disabilities? What accommodations are in place, or would be needed, for people with disabilities to engage in the life of your congregation?</li></ul><h3>Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December 8, 2013 (Second Sunday of Advent)</h3><p><a href="http&#58;//bible.oremus.org/?ql=252411412">Isaiah 11&#58;1-10</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//bible.oremus.org/?ql=252411440">Romans 15&#58;4-13</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//bible.oremus.org/?ql=252411471">Matthew 3&#58;1-12</a></p><p>(Text links are to <a href="http&#58;//bible.oremus.org/">Oremus Bible Browser</a>. 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 <a href="http&#58;//www.elca.org/Growing-In-Faith/Worship/Lectionary.aspx">Lectionary Readings</a>.)</p><p>For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic <a href="http&#58;//www.agnusday.org/">Agnus Day.</a></p><h3>Gospel Reflection<br><br></h3><p>There must have been great relief for the people in Jerusalem, Judea and around the Jordan who heard John’s words. The time of the Messiah had come, and he would surely wipe out their oppressors and restore Israel.</p><p>Matthew tells us that many came to be baptized and confess their sins. But there is also evidence here that the coming of the Christ would not be exactly what the people were expecting.&#160; The Pharisees and Sadducees, although known for their adherence to the Law of Moses, tradition, and ritual, were in for a big shock. By all appearances, these were the most righteous of all. Yet John questions their sincerity and warns them that the one to come will baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire.</p><p>Some Jews of the time believed that Abraham was so virtuous that he secured a place in the life to come for himself and his descendants. John tells the leaders not to come to him merely going through the motions of confession and baptism and relying on their ancestor Abraham for their salvation. Instead, they must truly repent.&#160; John warns them that absent true repentance the one who is coming will cut them down like trees which do not produce good fruit.</p><p>For modern Christians, this scripture offers insight into the purpose of Advent and how we should spend the weeks leading up to Christmas. The kingdom of heaven is at hand, and we must prepare our hearts with repentance to receive the gift of Christ. This cannot be empty ritual.&#160; We risk the fate of the chaff, separated from the wheat and destroyed in the fire.</p><p>Unlike John’s audience, we know the good news of the New Testament in which Jesus shows us how to open ourselves to God’s love and live joyfully according to God’s plan. This greatest gift, the presence of God in our world and lives, is what we spend the season of Advent preparing our hearts to receive.</p><h3>Discussion Questions</h3><ul><li>&#160;John invited the people to confess and be baptized. Is there something similar in the way we observe Advent today?</li><li>The Pharisees and Sadducees allowed tradition and ritual to distract them from sincere practice of their faith in all spheres of their lives. Are there similar distractions in your life?</li><li>How do we “prepare the way of the Lord?”</li><li>Are our Advent preparations only within our own hearts and minds, or is there something about the way we act in the world that is also a way of preparing?</li></ul><h3>Activity Suggestions</h3><p>Write your own Advent hymn&#58;</p><p>Without looking at a hymnal, make a list of all the Christmas hymns you can think of. Then make a list of all the Advent hymns you can think of. Odds are, your list of Advent hymns is much shorter, even though there are numerous examples in our hymnals. For some reason, many Advent hymns have failed to capture the imagination and stick in the mind the way Christmas songs do.&#160;&#160; Here’s your change to change that.</p><p>First, consider the message of your hymn. Will it focus on what the arrival of Jesus will bring to the world? Will it focus on how we prepare ourselves for Christmas? Perhaps both, or something else entirely?&#160;&#160; Write down some ideas for your hymn and begin to write the poem that will be the lyrics.</p><p>Set your words to music. The easiest way is probably to use an existing familiar tune.&#160; The numbers at the bottom right of ELW hymns can help you find possible tunes which match then number of syllables in each line of your poem.</p><p>When you’re finished, sing your hymn. Consider including your new song in your worship this Advent season.</p><h3>Closing Prayer</h3><p>Gracious Father, as we anxiously await the celebration of Christmas, help us to remember to spend time preparing ourselves and our world to receive our blessed Messiah. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.</p></div>12/03/2013December 1, 2013–Swords, Ploughshares, and John Lennon: War is Over?faithlens http://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/FaithLens/208http://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/FaithLens/208<div class="ExternalClass367374E207D94216A4FB26EDE81F7EE4"><p>​Contributed by Jay McDivett, Mequon, WI</p><h3>Warm-up Question</h3><p>How have the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan affected your family or friends?</p><h3><strong>Swords, Ploughshares, and John Lennon&#58; War is Over?”</strong></h3><p>The U.S. has been engaged in active conflict in Afghanistan since October 7, 2001. While the country’s leaders have been working to bring troops home, with a hoped for deadline of December 31, 2014, recently an agreement was reached to extend an active presence of at least 10,000 U.S. troops long past that date.</p><p>Meanwhile, in Iraq, the U.S. departure has been followed by an accelerated slide into civil war, which is one major factor shaping plans to stay in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future&#58; We don’t want that country to go down the road that Iraq seems to be on.</p><p><a href="http&#58;//blogs.elca.org/faithlens/files/2013/11/shutterstock_74186410edit.jpg"><img width="300" height="237" src="http&#58;//blogs.elca.org/faithlens/files/2013/11/shutterstock_74186410edit.jpg" alt="shutterstock_74186410edit" class="alignleft size-full wp-image-4923 ms-rte-paste-setimagesize" style="margin&#58;5px;" /></a><br></p><p>Right next door, the international community is working to find peaceful solutions for what seems to be an escalating and open-ended civil war in Syria. If things continue to deteriorate and heat up, it remains to be seen whether the U.S. will be able to avoid participating in yet another war in this divided region of the world.</p><p>Back at home, gun violence continues to weigh heavily on the hearts and minds of people all over the country. In the midst of violence abroad and at home, some are trying to find ways to open up space for peace. In Newburyport, MA, pastor Christopher Ney of Kids as Peacemakers and Central Congregational Church is urging people to take a week off from violent video games. Especially in this holiday season, as every gaming system is coming out with their newest games and consoles – nearly all of which include violent imagery – Ney is wondering if it might be time to take a break.</p><h3>Discussion Questions</h3><ul><li>Most of you probably do not remember a time when the U.S. was not engaged in active conflict/war. How does it feel – and how does it matter to you – to grow up during a time of war? How hopeful are you that there will ever be peace?</li><li>How do you feel about Pr Ney’s suggestion of taking a week off from violent video games? What difference would it make?</li><li>How often do you talk about the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, or anywhere else, in your household? What do you think explains how much – or how little – these things are on your minds as a family?</li></ul><h3>Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December 1, 2013 (First Sunday of Advent)</h3><p><a href="http&#58;//bible.oremus.org/?ql=252145320">Isaiah 2&#58;1-5</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//bible.oremus.org/?ql=252145346">Romans 13&#58;11-14</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//bible.oremus.org/?ql=252145376">Matthew 24&#58;36-44</a></p><p>(Text links are to <a href="http&#58;//bible.oremus.org/">Oremus Bible Browser</a>. 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 <a href="http&#58;//www.elca.org/Growing-In-Faith/Worship/Lectionary.aspx">Lectionary Readings</a>.)</p><p>For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic <a href="http&#58;//www.agnusday.org/">Agnus Day.</a></p><h3>Biblical Reflection</h3><p>Today is the first Sunday in Advent. Advent is a season that is often overlooked in the midst of the Christmas rush. Christmas shopping and frivolity aside, frankly&#58; not a lot of people want to hear the kinds of things that this season asks us to think about. Advent is <span style="text-decoration&#58;underline;">not</span> “business as usual.” Advent seeks to turn the world upside down. Advent says&#58; “Pay attention! The way things are is not the way things should – or could – or will be.” More than anything, Advent is a reminder that nothing lasts forever. All things – people, countries, fortunes, trials – all things will come to an end.</p><p>This is both great and difficult news. It’s difficult because no one wants to talk about how all the good things we enjoy – family, friends, stuff, etc. – will not last forever. But it is also great news – because there is plenty of stuff that we have gotten accustomed to, things that are a part of “just the way things are,” that are not the way things ought to be.</p><p>For example&#58; War.</p><p>The U.S. engagement in Afghanistan will soon become the longest war in this nation’s history. Especially for those who were born during or after 2001, war is simply a fact of life, especially for those who have family and friends in the armed services. This has been true for many of our brothers and sisters around the world, at many different times in history (just ask anyone from Afghanistan.&#160; This isn’t the first time they’ve raised up a generation or more in the midst of war).</p><p>This was also true of our ancestors, the children of Israel. The prophet Isaiah lived during one of the longest stretches of war and international anxiety in the history of God’s people. The book begins around the time that the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrian empire. Isaiah lived in the southern kingdom (Judah), but he and his friends had lots of family in the north. Everyone in Judah and Jerusalem (the capital) lived in constant fear that they were next. Indeed, the southern kingdom met its doom 140 years later. That means the people of Judah lived in a heightened state of anxiety and conflict for several generations. They knew nothing but “wars and rumors of wars.” A strange time to raise your kids, to be sure.</p><p>Into this anxious and dangerous time, God sent Isaiah with a vision of massive transformation&#58; The time of war will come to an end. All the weapons of war will be pounded into implements for farming. As my favorite Old Testament professor, Dr Ralph Klein, likes to say (and I’m paraphrasing his own paraphrase)&#58; “They shall pound their rifles into lawn mowers, and their tanks into John Deere tractors.” There will come a time when we will have no more use for the stuff that kills – only for the things that help us grow and live.</p><p>Lots will have to change in order for this vision to become a reality. Some of that is our work to do. But ultimately, in a world that loves war and violence as much as we do, this Advent vision of soldiers-turned-farmers is something only God can bring to birth. In the meantime, as we wait and watch, we hold onto the promise that someday we will be raising children in a time of peace – here and everywhere. Someday, the fields of Afghanistan will be full of waves of grain, not laced with landmines. Someday, by God’s grace, all the bloodstained clothes will be bleached and sparkling white. Someday, the old John Lennon carol (surely you’ve heard it at Target in the last few days) will actually ring true&#58; “Happy Christmas&#58; War is Over.”</p><p>This is what Advent is all about&#58; We sing and pray as if the world <span style="text-decoration&#58;underline;">is</span> becoming something other than what it is today. And by God’s grace alone – <strong>it is</strong>.</p><h3>Discussion Questions</h3><ul><li>How does your family observe the season of Advent? How could you observe this season more intentionally?</li><li>What are some things about “the way things are” that you wish could change? What are some things about “the way things are” that you hope will stay the same?</li><li>When you think about things you hope <span style="text-decoration&#58;underline;">will</span> change, how do you think that will happen? What role do you play in that? What part belongs to others? What part belongs only to God?</li><li>How long do you think it will take for us to live in a world without war and violence? What will make that day come faster or slower?</li></ul><h3>Activity Suggestions</h3><p>Activity #1&#58; “Swords into ploughshares”</p><p>Grab a stack of newspapers, magazines, catalogs, whatever. Invite the youth to find images of violence – movie/video game ads, images of fake (or real) guns, etc. Cut them into pieces and turn them into images of peace, growth, life, and love (crops, food, peace sign, tractors/shovels, dinner tables, etc.). Hang these up somewhere in the church, with a sign/banner that reads&#58; “Swords into ploughshares.”</p><p>Activity #2&#58; “A world without war”</p><p>Get a map of the world.&#160; (Google image search “world map”; you get things like this&#58; <a href="http&#58;//www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/world_maps/world_physical_2012.pdf">http&#58;//www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/world_maps/world_physical_2012.pdf</a>)</p><p>Circle places in the world where you know there are conflicts, wars, etc.</p><p>Gather around the map and invite participants to lay their hands/fingers on a place in the world where there is conflict (and, really, that could be anywhere). Invite them to pray about those places – and particularly children who are growing up there – that those kids and those places might know peace. You may or may not want to listen to John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas&#58; War is Over” while you do this J.</p><h3>Closing Prayer</h3><p>God, this world is in love with war. We, however, are not – and neither are you. Help us look for signs of hope, work for moments of peace, and continue to dream about a world without war and violence. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” In the meantime, as much as you are able, keep us safe. Amen</p></div>11/26/2013November 24, 2013–It’s Good to be Rememberedfaithlens http://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/FaithLens/35http://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/FaithLens/35<div class="ExternalClass096B8AFB7586418FAB71BB006BC5BF43"><p>​Contributed by Lindean Barnett Christenson, Bozeman, MT</p><h3>Warm-up Question</h3><ul><li>How do you hope to be remembered at the end of your high school (college/current) career?</li><li>How do you hope to be remembered at the end of your life? By whom?</li></ul><h3>It’s Good to be Remembered</h3><p>Friday, November 22<sup>nd</sup> marks the 50<sup>th</sup> anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. For much of this month there have been special editions of news magazines on the stands, special segments on the nightly radio and television news, and hours of TV specials replaying highlights from Kennedy’s life, footage from his presidency, and endless talk of conspiracy theories regarding his death. Remembering JFK and his death is evidently important in the US on this 50<sup>th</sup> anniversary.</p><p>At the same time, the news is full of images and stories coming from the Philippines after super-typhoon Haiyan. The storm system killed hundreds, if not thousands, most of whose names we in the US will never know. Millions have been affected in some way, and the relief and rebuilding efforts will undoubtedly take years – and continue even after the next disaster or tragedy takes over the airwaves. For many people around the world, the devastation of the typhoon will be “old news,” and largely forgotten, sooner than later.</p><h3>Discussion Questions</h3><ul><li>Do you think it’s important for students today to study mid-twentieth century events? Why or why not?</li><li>Do you think it’s important for students today to study current events? Why or why not?</li><li>What do you feel like you should do to remember JFK? Or those suffering in the Philippines? Why?</li></ul><h3>Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 24, 2013 (Christ the King Sunday)</h3><p><a href="http&#58;//bible.oremus.org/?ql=251292329">Jeremiah 23&#58;1-6</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//bible.oremus.org/?ql=251292368">Colossians 1&#58;11-20</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//bible.oremus.org/?ql=251292451">Luke 23&#58;33-43</a></p><p>(Text links are to <a href="http&#58;//bible.oremus.org/">Oremus Bible Browser</a>. 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 <a href="http&#58;//www.elca.org/Growing-In-Faith/Worship/Lectionary.aspx">Lectionary Readings</a>.)</p><p>For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic <a href="http&#58;//www.agnusday.org/">Agnus Day.</a></p><h3>Gospel Reflection</h3><p><a href="http&#58;//blogs.elca.org/faithlens/files/2013/11/shutterstock_113005723edit.jpg"><img width="200" height="133" src="http&#58;//blogs.elca.org/faithlens/files/2013/11/shutterstock_113005723edit.jpg" alt="shutterstock_113005723edit" class="alignleft size-full wp-image-4905 ms-rte-paste-setimagesize" style="margin&#58;5px;" /></a></p><p>“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The request from one of the criminals crucified alongside Jesus sounds so different from all the other words hurled at Jesus on his way to death on the cross.</p><p>The religious leaders, the Roman soldiers, and even the other criminal being executed by crucifixion all mocked Jesus and scoffed at him. IF you are the Messiah, then SAVE yourself, they said, assuming that of course if Jesus had the power to save himself, he would. But Jesus is a Messiah who saves others only by not saving himself, demonstrating what sort of king he really is.</p><p>Somehow, the second criminal saw the truth of what was happening&#58; that he had been rightly condemned for his guilt, but Jesus was innocent. He didn’t demand to be rescued from his fate. He asked to be remembered, not to be forgotten, perhaps perceiving that Jesus would enter his glory not by coming down from the cross but by dying on it. And Jesus promised him a place in paradise.</p><p>In baptism we, too, are promised life with God, now and forever – because Jesus died and was raised again. Jesus will remember you, too.</p><h3>Discussion Questions</h3><ul><li>What do you make of the second criminal’s request that Jesus remember him? Is it surprising? Not surprising?</li><li>When you are desperate, do you pray? What words do you use?</li><li>How is “remembering” part of your life of faith? What other Bible stories/verses can you think of that talk about remembering? (“Do this in remembrance of me…”; Remember your creator in the days of your youth (Eccl 12); Remember the Sabbath day, etc.) How does what you remember determine who you become?</li><li>How are the promises of baptism meaningful to you in your day to day life? How does it feel to know Jesus remembers you?</li></ul><h3>Activity Suggestions</h3><ul><li>Ask several people who are old enough to remember where they were when JFK was assassinated, and what they remember about that day and subsequent events. If there are other dates important in your community, ask about those as well (the Challenger explosion, 9/11, etc.).</li><li>Using online resources, learn about ongoing relief/repair efforts in places affected by tragedy in the past few years. (Haiti post-earthquake, Japan post-tsunami, Gulf Coast post-Katrina and post-Deepwater Horizon oil-spill, might be places to start). Discuss the leadership and support of those efforts.&#160; Who’s there? Where and how do you see the kingdom of God in those places?</li><li>Create a list of those who might feel “forgotten” in your community and around the world. Brainstorm ways you can remember them (perhaps an ongoing prayer list, sending notes, visiting, collecting resources for disaster victims). Choose one or two and make a plan to follow through.</li></ul><h3>Closing Prayer</h3><p>Christ our King, in love you chose to save others by not saving yourself. Remind us again that your kingdom is coming, and that it is among us.&#160; Remind us that in your kingdom the lowly are lifted up, the lost are found, and the last are first. Help us remember you and the life to which you call us. In your holy name we pray, Amen</p></div>11/19/2013