ELCA Faith Lens's Blog

Weekly Bible studies that engage youth and young adults in connecting world events with the Bible, faith, and everyday life.
 

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

May 22, 2022–What’s Next?

Sara Galyon, Decatur, GA

Warm-up Question

Do you feel like God is active in your life? Why, or why not?

What’s Next?

We are in the  season of graduations.  Some high schools in the country are already prepping for their graduations, and many colleges have already had their ceremonies.

Rollins College celebrated its graduation on May 8th. Located in Winter Park, Florida, Rollins had five valedictorians, all obtaining a perfect 4.0 GPA. Of those four, one is a non-speaking autistic woman named Elizabeth, who was chosen by the other valedictorians to give the graduation address. 

By typing with one finger in a “text to speech” program, she delivered her speech with the help of  a communication partner.  She was diagnosed with non-speaking autism at 15 months old. Her mother was told she would never communicate, but her mother was determined to find a solution.  She taught her daughter how to use various tools and, ultimately, how to communicate with others by typing. Elizabeth said being able to type “unlocked [her] mind from its silent cage,” allowing her to get to the point where she’d share that mind in a graduation address. 

She called the class of 500 students to lives of service to others, because that will give their lives meaning. She ended her speech saying, “God gave you a voice. Use it. And know, the irony of a nonspeaking autistic encouraging you to use your voice is not lost on me. Because if you can see the worth in me, you can see the worth in everyone you meet.”

Discussion Questions

  • Graduations are often a time of saying goodbye, and sometimes come with some uncertainty about the future. Have you ever experienced a time when you said good-bye to someone or something, and then weren’t sure what would come next? What was that like?
  • When have you looked back on things which have happened in your life and realized that God must have been at work in that situation?
  • When have you felt called to use your voice, for the good of others, or yourself? Did you use your voice? How did you feel that call?

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Acts 16:9-15

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

John 14:23-29

John 5:1-9

(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 text transports us back to before Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus is preparing his followers for what is to come. 

As lectionary passages often do, this one begins in the middle of a conversation. A disciple has asks Jesus how he will reveal himself to the disciples when the world cannot see him, as Jesus describes in John 14:19. It’s a good question. They have never experienced anything like what Jesus describes. Of course, Jesus gives a very Jesus-y answer to that question. Love. Love is the way the disciples will know Jesus. The disciples love for Jesus, and God’s love for them.

Jesus goes on to reassure them that they aren’t totally alone once he returns to God. He describes the third part of what we know as the Trinity. God will send the Advocate (Holy Spirit)  after Jesus is gone, to continue to teach them and remind them of everything Jesus has said to them while the world could still see him. 

He then goes on to describe the peace that Jesus plans to leave with them. This peace belongs to Jesus, and it is not the peace that the world gives. This period in history is also known as the Pax Romana (Roman Peace) , a nearly 200 year period when there was relative peace and prosperity throughout the empire. But that peace came through bloodshed and was maintained through military strength. This is an example of how Jesus turns the worldly narrative on its head:   Jesus leaves peace through love.  The emperor keeps peace through force, which the disciples will see first hand at Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion.  

This passage is part of what scholars call the Farewell Discourse. It’s a goodbye message from Jesus to the disciples. While they may have been very confused in the moment, we get the benefit of centuries to look back on this text and think about what it means for God to send the Holy Spirit after Jesus leaves the world. 

Discussion Questions

  • The Holy Spirit has many names;, in this case we have the word “Advocate.” What does Advocate mean to you?
  • How do you see the difference between the peace that Jesus gives to us, and the peace the world offers today?
  • As Christians, we believe the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives and in the world around us. Looking back on your life, where do you think the Holy Spirit was at work?
  • The future for the disciples was very uncertain at this point. How does the future look for you? How is the Holy Spirit guiding you as you lean into whatever will be your future?

Activity Suggestions

Supplies: chart paper, sticky notes, pens (alternatively, you can use a whiteboard and markers)

  • Hand out the sticky notes and pens to everyone and put the chart paper where it is in the center of the group. Have everyone write ways they think the Holy Spirit is actively at work in the world. This can be from personal experience, news stories, projects in your community etc.
  • As they come up with their ideas, have them place the sticky notes on the chart paper. After everyone has come up with a few, ask if anyone wants to share theirs. Then see if you can add more as a group. See if you can fill the paper! You may be surprised at how active God is in the world through the Holy Spirit once you start really thinking about it!

Closing Prayer

Loving God, your Advocate is welcome in this place and we ask that you fill our lives with inklings, ideas, nudges, and outright shoves into the directions you call us to participate as your people in the world. Open our eyes to areas where your love is needed. Help us love Jesus and our neighbors in the way you love us. Walk with us as we work together to show your peace to a troubled world. In your name we pray. Amen. 

 

The post May 22, 2022–What’s Next? appeared first on Faith Lens.


Tuesday, May 10, 2022

May 15, 2022–What Do You Mean By “Love”?

Tuhina Rasche, San Carlos, CA

Warm-up Question

  • What are some of the things you love? Food, music, movies, books? Why do you love them?
  • What are your favorite songs or stories about love? Why are they your favorites? What do these songs or stories say about love?

What Do You Mean By “Love”?

I’m going to date myself, but I love power ballads from the 1980s. I really love these songs.  Not just  because of the cool electric guitars, but also because a lot of these songs explore the concept of love. Some of these songs:

  • Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”
  • Whitesnake’s “Is This Love?” 
  • Foreigner’s “I Wanna Know What Love Is?”  
  • Huey Lewis and the News’ “Do You Believe in Love?” 

These songs (and many current songs) talk a lot about love. They wonder about the relationships between people we call “love.” Some talk about a love that’s unrecognized and unnoticed by another person. Some talk about just how amazing love is. Throughout  human history we’ve talked about love, not just in songs, but also in stories, movies, poetry, and other mediums. But there’s something about these songs which leaves me wondering about the definition of love. Because truly, what is love?

What confuses me is how the word “love” can refer to both deep and meaningful relationships and to things I merely like. How I can use the same word to talk about my feeling for my parents and my affinity for tacos? I love my parents. I love tacos. But are these loves the same thing? I’m confused about how to use the word “love”… especially when I really mean it. 

Discussion Questions

  • Why is it be so hard to define what seems like a simple term?
  • If humans have talked about love for the entirety of recorded human history, why is it sometimes so hard to embody and live out?

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 11:1-18

Revelation 21:1-6

John 13:31-35

(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

In this gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another. As I have loved you, you should love one another.” This is a commandment that calls us into a relationship, with both God and one another. It calls us into a relationship of love.  This is more than extreme like; in love one person pours out themselves for another, as God has poured out love for us. If this is a new commandment, this is serious. Jesus calls us to love others as he loves us. This means that we’re called to love our neighbor in need, created in God’s image. 

Yet that short, elusive, and mysterious word “love” is complicated. Jesus sends us out, not just to be his hands and feet in the world, but also to embody the love that God shows us in the person of Jesus. What is hard about this new commandment is that we cannot pick and choose whom we love. Jesus calls us to love and serve our neighbor, to be in solidarity with the oppressed.  But we are also called to love those we don’t even like—to love everyone. 

Yipes. What seemed so simple before is now a big challenge. It takes a lot of deep breaths, faith, trust, and risk-taking. Love isn’t just a vague four letter word or a feeling. Love is action; it is a verb.  We live in relationship with one another. Christ’s commandment seems so simple,  so glaringly obvious,“Love as I have loved you.”  Yet it is one of the hardest things Jesus asks us to do. Thanks be to God that we’ve been shown that love in Jesus Christ.  In our baptism and at the communion table we remember just how much we are loved. 

Discussion Questions

  • How do you define God’s love? How does that love differ from any other type of love?
  • Why is it sometimes hard to love people who are not like you?
  • Who are some of the people who have loved you to life? Who are some of the people you love to life?  (If that phrase, “loved you to life” is new to you, think about what it might mean; how does being loved make you more alive?)

Activity Suggestions

  • Think about the loving relationships in your life and what makes these relationships rooted in love. Take time to list the relationships where love plays an important role. Share lists with one another (if you’re comfortable doing do). What are the similarities and differences?
  • Take sticky notes and cut them into a heart shape. Have everyone in your group write the name of someone they love on a sticky note and place it on the wall. Study the wall of love. Take a sticky note that isn’t yours and pray for that person throughout the week. 
  • Conversation hearts are a popular candy to give out on Valentine’s Day. What would God write on a conversation heart to you? Write that message on a sticky note and place it on the wall. What are God’s messages of love? 

Closing Prayer

Holy God, in the person of Jesus Christ you have shown us the enormity of your love for each of us. Help and guide us to live out this new commandment given to us by Jesus, to love one another as you love us. May those in the world know God’s love through us. Amen.

 

The post May 15, 2022–What Do You Mean By “Love”? appeared first on Faith Lens.


Tuesday, May 3, 2022

May 8, 2022–Whose Voice Are You Listening To?

Scott Mims, Virginia Beach, VA

Warm-up Question

If you could share a meal with any famous person – real or fictional / living or dead – who would it be and why?

Whose Voice Are You Listening To?

Recently, the board of Twitter agreed to an offer from Elon Musk to buy the social media company for around $44 billion.  When the deal is completed, it will put the world’s richest person in charge of an incredibly influential platform.  With nearly 400 million users, Twitter has helped to transform not only the news business but how influencers like celebrities and politicians reach their audiences.

In a statement announcing the deal, Mr. Musk said, “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.”  Yet along with the positive aspects of social media, there are aspects that are not so positive.  

In the case of Twitter, for example, some have expressed concern about the potential impact of having such a powerful social media company privately owned and controlled by a single person.  Like other platforms, Twitter’s algorithms and systems tend to amplify the most incendiary voices, hateful speech, and disinformation. And there is a growing body of evidence that overuse of social media can lead to increased levels of anxiety and depression, particularly in students.

Discussion Questions

  • What social media platforms (if any) do you use?  What do you enjoy most about these platforms?
  • Name are some of the positive things about social media?
  • What are some of the negative aspects?
  • How would you rate the impact of social media on how you feel about things? 
    • When I think about the future, social media makes me feel a) more confident  b) less confident  c) no impact.  Why?
    • When it comes to who I am – my own sense of self – social media makes me feel a) more confident  b) less confident  c) no impact.  Why?
  • What limits, if any, should we place on what is posted on social media platforms?

Fourth Sunday or Easter

Acts 9:36-43

Revelation 7:9-17

John 10:22-30

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. 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

“Hindsight is 20/20,” the old saying goes, meaning that it is easier to see the meaning of things when you are looking back.  Perhaps that is why today’s gospel reading is a flashback to John 10, a time well before Jesus’ death and resurrection.  It is as if to say, now that we have encountered the Risen Jesus, we are finally ready to make sense of what he was saying.

The setting is the Festival of the Dedication – a holiday more familiar to most of us as Hanukkah.  Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem following a successful revolt against the rule of Antiochus IV by a group of Jewish resistance fighters, led by Judas Maccabaeus.  Through this remarkable achievement the Jewish people not only enjoyed a fully independent kingdom for many decades, but Judas and his family were made kings.  

This history helps us understand the question put to Jesus as he walks near the Temple. “How long will you keep us in suspense?  If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”  Given that, in Jesus’ day, the Romans were in charge, many hoped that God’s “messiah” would do something similar to the Maccabean revolt. That is, they were looking for someone to defeat the Romans and reestablish their nation as an independent kingdom.  Adding to their anticipation were Jesus’ own words.  Earlier in John 10 he talked about being the “good shepherd.” In the scriptures  “shepherd” was frequently used as a symbol for the Davidic king.

So then, is Jesus the Messiah, Israel’s true king?  He does not come out and say it in so many words because, as the cross and resurrection show us, being “messiah” and “king” means something different to Jesus than what people are expecting.  Nevertheless, Jesus indicates that both his words and his actions should lead people to the correct conclusion about his identity. If not, then it is because they do not belong to Jesus’ sheep.  “My sheep hear my voice,” Jesus says.  “I know them, and they follow me.”  

And here, you see, is where it becomes vitally important that, of all the voices one might choose to listen to, we listen for the voice of Jesus.  For, as Jesus goes on to explain, those who hear his voice and recognize it as the voice of their Shepherd will be safe forever. Because of Jesus’ union with God, nothing will be able to separate his “sheep” from him and his love.  Indeed, nothing will ultimately be able to harm them, not even death.

Discussion Questions

  • When it comes to social media, how do you decide who to follow?
  • How about when it comes to how you live your life – who or what are your most important influences?
  • What do you think it means to “hear Jesus’ voice”?  In what ways are we able to “listen” to Jesus?  
  • Do you think Jesus ever listens to us?  Why or why not?
  • How can Jesus’ resurrection help us to have confidence about his promise, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish”?  When it comes to your own life and future, how does this promise make you feel?

Activity Suggestions

  • “Listening to the Shepherd”  Set up sort of a “minefield” of small obstacles.  Things like small pillows, tennis balls, bean bags, shoes, etc. all work great.  Invite participants to get into pairs, with one of them being the “shepherd” and the other one being the “sheep.” The sheep is blindfolded and stands on the opposite side of the obstacle course from the shepherd. The object is for the sheep to navigate the course without stepping on the any of the obstacles by listening to directions from the shepherd.  Variations might include having all the pairs of participants run the course at the same time (thus resulting in lots of different voices shouting different directions) or of having one pair try to successfully navigate the course while all the other participants are shouting contradictory instructions.  Reflect on the experience:  What was it like to have to rely only on the voice of the shepherd to make it safely through the obstacles?  What helped you to focus on the shepherd’s voice when all the other voices around you were telling you different things?  How do you think this activity relates to following Jesus?
  • “Encouraging Words”  Invite participants to share with one another verses or passages of Scripture that they find particularly helpful or encouraging.  Perhaps collect them in a list that can be shared with everyone later.  Here are a few possibilities from John’s gospel to get you started: John 1:1- 5; 3:16 – 17; 6:35; 8:12; 10:11; 11:25 – 26; 14:1 – 3; 14:27. 

Closing Prayer

Lord Jesus our shepherd, you know your sheep by name and lead us to safely, even through the valleys of death. Guide us by your voice and help us to follow you into all that makes for an abundant life.  Continue to reveal your love and grace to us this Easter season and open our eyes to your living presence among us.  Amen.

 

The post May 8, 2022–Whose Voice Are You Listening To? appeared first on Faith Lens.


Tuesday, April 26, 2022

May 1, 2022–Glimpse of the Kingdom

Bob Chell–Sioux Falls, SD

Warm-up Question

Where do your encounter Jesus in your life?

Glimpse of the Kingdom

TV stations like to run feel good stories.  Sometimes it is about neighbors who harvest the crops of a sick or disabled farmer.  It may celebrate a high school athlete with developmental or health challenges who scores a touchdown.  Maybe it highlights a basketball game when opposing coaches and players conspire to allow a student with special needs  to score.  Often  a raucous celebration follows with fans and athletes of both sides celebrating the special moment.

We cherish such stories because they remind us that kindness and compassion are precious virtues.  Too often we act as though, “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” is a philosophy worth embracing, instead of a morally bankrupt attitude which produces a combative, harsh society in which no one wants to live. These feel good stories help us  see persons who are often forgotten or regarded as unimportant.  They remind us of our better selves, what we can do when we go beyond selfishness to make our world better.  These stories emphasize what is most important in our lives together.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever been a part of one of these celebrations? How did it make you feel? Why?
  • Do you have a friend or family member who is overlooked or invisible, or even bullied because they are different?
  • Is there a student in your school whose name, when mentioned, brings laughter, eye rolls or scoffing?
  • Have you ever befriended someone left out? Did this diminish or elevate you in the eyes of others?

Third Sunday of Easter

Acts 9:1-6 [7-20]

Revelation 5:11-14

John 21:1-19

(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

The Easter season is seven weeks long. Nearly every week the gospel lesson includes disciples encountering Jesus and failing to recognize him. This week’s gospel encounter is crammed with significance. There is a miracle and allusions to Peter’s failure to stand firm during the horrible events of Holy Week, as Jesus asks him repeatedly, “Do you love me.” Both are important and theologically significant, yet by focusing on them we may miss what is most significant. Namely, Jesus is in the world today if we have eyes to see.

Only in John’s gospel does Jesus appear to witnesses on Easter morning.  In the original ending of Mark’s gospel, Jesus doesn’t appear to the disciples. But the young man at the tomb tells the women to seek Jesus because he is going ahead of them.  From the beginning, Mark suggests, that the proper response to Easter’s good news is to seek Jesus in the world. 

In confirmation we learn that we encounter Christ in the sacraments, Baptism and Holy Communion, where God’s promise is attached to an earthly sign of water, bread, or wine.  As Martin Luther says, “This is most certainly true.” 

Yet the Holy Spirit is not shackled to the font and altar but free in the world. Jesus said, “…where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matt. 18:20) Later, he speaks of a time when people will ask, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” The answer comes, …just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

This story from Matthew has been used to scare or shame those who fail to care for others. It is, I believe, a misinterpretation. Jesus’ promise to meet us in our day to day lives is neither test nor threat, but an opportunity to share in the Kingdom of God.

Those neighbors in those feel good stories, sweaty and dirty from the harvest, cannot hide their joy. Those athletes and fans, cheer leaders and officials, all wear beaming smiles because there– for a moment—they caught a glimpse of the kingdom.

Discussion Questions

  • When and where have you encountered a glimpse of the Kingdom of God?
  • Do people hope they can feel good about themselves? Does this matter? Why or why not?
  • Feel good  news stories are one time events yet sickness and disability often persist. Who do you know who is there for others when the cameras are off and no one is looking?

Activity Suggestions

This week watch for an opportunity to speak a kind word, offer hope or encouragement to someone who needs it.  Watch and notice those who befriend and those who belittle others. Are they hurting themselves, trying to fit in, or oblivious to the feelings of others?

Closing Prayer

I first heard this prayer prayed by theologian and bishop, Krister Stendahl, . I don’t know if he wrote it but it captures perfectly the wrestling in my heart.

O God, you call us to follow you. 

O thou eternal Wisdom, whom we partly know, and partly do not know;

O thou eternal Justice, whom we partly acknowledge, but never wholly obey;

O thou eternal Love, whom we love a little but fear to love to much:

Open our minds that we may understand;

Work in our wills, that we may obey;

Kindle our hearts, that we may love thee.

 

The post May 1, 2022–Glimpse of the Kingdom appeared first on Faith Lens.


Tuesday, April 19, 2022

April 24, 2022–Opening Doors and Hearts

Jason Fisher, Champaign, IL

Warm-up Question

  • Name some reasons someone might lock themselves in their room?
  • What would it be like to live your whole life without leaving that room? What would you miss?

Opening Doors and Hearts

Kristen Berthiaume and her family live in Alabama.  They wanted to promote racial justice in their community. Seeing that  nationwide protests and demands for justice were often met with open racism and ignorance, the family decided to create an Anti-racist Little Library in front of their home. Kristen noticed that books about racial justice were high on bestseller lists.  So, she stocked their library with them, hoping they might educate their community and allow kids to see themselves in a wider variety of books.

Alabama Poet Laureate Ashley Jones was filled with hope when she found her book, Reparations Now!,” tucked inside the Antiracist Little Library. Jones is not only the first person of color, but also the youngest person, to be Poet Laureate of Alabama. 

In an interview, Jones shared, “As a Black woman in America, racism is absolutely inescapable. It shows up in all the little places and all the big places and all the places you don’t expect. Sometimes it’s in a textbook. Sometimes it’s in a purse grabbed as I walk by, sometimes it’s in a question about my hair, my skin. If anyone believes we have even come close to solving issues of racism and discrimination, they’re mistaken. If I’m afraid to go for a run, go buy a snack, go to sleep in my own bed behind my own locked door, we aren’t finished working yet.”

Discussion Questions

  • What is the last book you have read by an author of a different race, culture, or religion?
  • In what ways do books about other people’s experiences open doors to better relationships with them?

Second Sunday of Easter

Acts 5:27-32

Revelation 1:4-8

John 20:19-31

(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

In this post-resurrection account we find the disciples hiding in fear behind locked doors, in a self-imposed prison. There is no life there, only the fear of death. They’ve spent years watching and participating in the life-giving ministry of Jesus.  Now they hide and cling to what can hardly be called life. Then, right in the midst of their fear, Jesus brings peace and proof, life from death–not locks and doors. After Jesus breaths the Holy Spirit on them the disciples can no longer stay in locked rooms; they go out and share with others what they have seen and heard.

A whole week goes by and they are again in the same house. BUT this time the doors are not locked. They are shut, but not locked. So, we could say they are making progress. Again, Jesus brings proof and peace, but this time it is for Thomas. Instead of rejecting him for not believing the other disciples, Jesus invites Thomas to touch his wounds.  And Thomas believes. 

John says Jesus did many other signs in front of the disciples which are not recorded.  Then he adds,  “…but  these are written in this book so that YOU may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have  in his name.” The very words of this Gospel are written directly to YOU that you might be set free and have life in Jesus’ name. Jesus frees us from fear. He frees us from feeling like we missed out. Jesus makes us look around and figure out who is not in the room with us so that we can invite them in.

Discussion Questions

  • Where have you experienced peace this week?
  • Whose experiences are missing from your life, and how might you reach out to touch (and learn from) them?
  • What do you need God to prove to you right now?

Activity Suggestions

Read a book, memorize a poem, listen to a speaker, or watch a movie created by someone who is a minority voice in your culture. Then ask yourself, “What are their wounds? Are there things to which I’ve had access that are denied to them?” Share what you have learned from that person with your friends and family.  Begin recommending resources that will challenge them as well. 

Closing Prayer

Think of something you are afraid of right now. Find a door that has a lock on it. Begin a prayer by holding onto the doorknob. 

Pray; “Lord right now I am afraid of….” (As you lift up your fear to God, lock the door.)

Pray; “Jesus give me your peace.” (as you ask for peace, unlock the door.)

Pray; “Spirit send me.” (as you finish the prayer, open the door and walk through.)

 

The post April 24, 2022–Opening Doors and Hearts appeared first on Faith Lens.


Tuesday, April 12, 2022

April 17, 2022–Lessons from a Crooked Tree

Chris Heavner, Clemson, SC

Warm-up Question

How many times have you heard the Easter story?  What is happening in your life this day which makes it possible for you to hear the story as if for the very first time?

Lessons from a Crooked Tree

In my part of the world, dogwood trees bloom at Easter.  My Sunday Church School teachers told an old Christian legend to explain why: 

“See those four petals?  How they form a cross?  Notice that there is a mark of shame at the tip of each pedal. The lumber used to build the cross on which Jesus was hung was from a dogwood tree.  Now in Jesus’ day, dogwoods were tall and straight and strong.  The dogwood was embarrassed to be used in this way, so it shriveled itself into a small tree with a twisting trunk.  Never again could it be used to kill one of God’s children.  The dogwood’s petals not only form a cross, but they have dark marks on the ends as reminders of Jesus’ wounds.”

In my part of the world, dogwood trees are among the first indicators that new life is happening.  They assure us that the death associated with the winter has been pushed aside.  Their blooms brighten our yards and our lives, reminding us that nothing will stand in the way of God’s goodness and promise of new life.  That crooked tree is a powerful witness to the Easter promise of hope beyond despair.

Singer and song-writer Molly Tuttle recently came to my town.  She has a song which reminds me of the strength, beauty, and power of a small and twisted trunk.  Her music video, “Crooked Tree,” is posted on YouTube.  The lyrics celebrate what we too often consider of lesser value.  Lumber mills demand tall, straight trees and turn them into profit, Tuttle celebrates crooked trees (and people) who “won’t fit into the mill machine.”  In the lyrics one finds a reminder that the Easter message lifts up those of low degree and champions those who embrace their God-given individuality.   

In my part of the world, dogwood trees bloom at Easter.  And they encourage each of us to bloom, too.  They teach us that what others may value is not always what God values.

Discussion Questions

  • No tree grows perfectly straight.  Can you figure out some of the reasons why?
  • Some think the world is less than what God intends when force everyone into the same mold.  Do you agree?
  • Name some of the “really different” personalities who have helped you  or simply brought deep joy into your life.

Resurrection of Our Lord

Acts 10:34-43

1 Corinthians 15:19-26

Luke 24:1-12

John 20:1-18  (Alternate)

(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

For a desolate and haunting place, Jesus’ gravesite sure attracted lot of people.  Many of our congregations will read from Luke on Easter; others will read from John.  Matthew and Mark also recount the events of Easter morning.  In each, there are a lot of folks present.  

In Luke some characters are waiting when the visitors arrive.  We often call them “angels,” but that is not what the Bible says.  Its designation is “men.”  Yet there is something different about these “two men.”

Verse 11 states the obvious – the Easter story seems  to be an “idle tale.”  Perhaps the writers of the Gospels included as many eyewitnesses as possible in order to overcome the tendency to dismiss those telling this improbable story.  When others  bear witness to the something I want you to accept, it becomes more believable.

Another line of note is verse 8;  “Then they remembered.”  Jesus had tried to tell them what was going to happen, but words don’t have the power of experience.  What experiences have you had since, you last heard the Easter story, which make it possible for you to hear and remember what God is doing in your life?

The earlier references to dogwoods and crooked trees in this Faith Lens lift up another aspect of the story.  The events of Easter do not erase our individuality.  Each of the Easter morning characters are, well, characters.  Peter confessed Jesus as Lord and then immediately argued with Jesus over how best to save the world.  Mary Magdalene had been the host of seven demons.  Characters each.  And they are our witnesses to the Easter events.

Too often we see the story of Jesus as one which tries to make us into perfect replicas of something we are not.  The Easter story bursts forth with reminders that it is the unique and distinctive traits of person each which give these events their eternal significance.

By His death and resurrection Jesus destroys the  death of failing  to experience the beauty and the blessings of our uniqueness.   Your particular voice is beautiful and needed.  Use it and bear witness to the wonder of Easter.

Discussion Questions

  • Among the characters present on that first Easter morning, which tends to make it most likely that you will accept the things described?
  • Make a list of the ways in which the life of Mary Magdalene differed from that of Peter.  What stands out?  What impact might their life experiences have on their seeing an empty tomb?
  • The Church teaches that eternal life  has already begun, that it is more than something which happens after death?  How is eternal life is linked to the sacrament of Holy Baptism.
  • What religious, political, or social pressures make it hard for you to stand firm in your individuality?

Activity Suggestions

  • Take a good, long look at some trees.  Ask a few questions about what makes a tree grow the way it does.  Perhaps invite an arborist (tree specialist) to talk to you about the unique characteristics of different trees (like why we use oak for furniture but tend to use pine for building walls).
  • From a distance, soak up the beauty of a bunch of flowers.  Maybe your congregation has dozens of Easter Lilies around the altar.  Now, look more closely at one individual flower.  Compare it to an adjacent flower.  How are the similar?  What makes them different?
  • Ask your teacher or pastor why there are four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).  Ask what makes each of these different from the others; what is it that each gives us that would be missing if we only had three?
  • In anticipation of Pentecost Sunday, identify those who are least likely to know that the Easter story is intended for all.  Speak with those persons and share how the events which lie at the center of the Jesus’ community affirm our uniqueness.

Closing Prayer

Merciful God, it was upon a tree that you were hung and left to die.  We confess our complicity in that horrible mistreatment of your truth and your promise.  Deepen our awareness of the endless ways in which your resurrection sets us free and sets us on a new path.  Amen. 

 

The post April 17, 2022–Lessons from a Crooked Tree appeared first on Faith Lens.



Upcoming Events:

Tuesday, May 17
11:00am: Bible study
Wednesday, May 18
9:00am: Food Pantry
Sunday, May 22
10:00am: Worship
Tuesday, May 24
11:00am: Bible study

Lectionary Texts:

May 17, 2022:
First Reading: 2 Samuel 1:4-27
Psalm: Psalm 133
Second Reading: Acts 11:27-30
May 22, 2022 Sixth Sunday of Easter:
First Reading: Acts 16:9-15
Psalm: Psalm 67
Second Reading: Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
Gospel Reading: John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9

RCL (C) 1992 The Consultation on Common Texts used by permission



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