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Children’s Sermons (Advent 2015)

Advent 1: Isaiah 43:1-13

Main idea: New things are scary.  It is okay to be scared, but the new thing could be amazing, so it’s okay to be scared.  God is with us.

Who here has been scared to try something new?

Maybe you were scared while you were learning to ride your bike?

Maybe you were scared when your family moved or you started a new school?

Are there any other times when you have been scared to try something new?

(pause if the children have other answers…the goal is to talk about new experiences, not so much fears like room monsters, so use guiding answers like “That does sound scary, can you think of any scary times that were around doing a new activity or being in a new place?)

After the children have had a chance to answer, continue:

Sometimes, when we have these nervous, scary, new times, there is someone around to offer us words of comfort.  Maybe a parent, a teacher, or a friend is there that we can talk to when we are scared.  Have you ever thought about talking to God when you are scared, when you are standing right on the edge of doing something new, exciting, and a little scary?

Today, Pastor L is going to read from the book of Isaiah.  This book was written for people when they were in a scary place.  God had made promises to them about how wonderful their life would be and all the amazing things in store for them, but when for this group, they were far away from home and scared.  If you listen to the reading, count the number of times you hear the words, “do not fear”.  

God knows we get scared sometimes.  But, sometimes, to have an adventure, to try a new thing, to grow up, we have to be afraid and keep going.  When we are afraid, we can talk to God and receive God’s comforting words, “do not fear”.  And then we can keep looking for the wonderful new lessons and adventures God has in store for us.

Let us pray.

God who is with us always,

Sometimes we are afraid.  Sometimes we are brave.  Always, you are with us.  Always you are giving us comfort and encouragement to grow and learn.  When we are afraid, remind us of your love and presence.  When others are afraid, help us remind them they are not alone.

Amen.

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Advent 2: Esther 4

What time is it?

When is the last time you asked that question?  Was it on a long car ride?  Or when you were waiting for your favorite TV show to come on?  Or maybe it was almost time for recess at school and you looked up at the clock 1000 times in five minutes.  

What time is it?

Is it time for school?  For church?  Is it time to go play outside or to come in and get ready for dinner?

There are other reasons to ask about what time it is.  Questions that are less about the clock on the wall and more about being ready.

Is it time to ask for help on your homework? Or time to help a classmate once your homework is finished? Is it time to go and sit with the kid in class that other people pick on?  Is it time to buy a new coat or maybe look through your closet for last year’s coat that you can donate to a coat drive because it is now too small for you?

Being ready to help others, to use what you have, from coats you have outgrown to sitting with a lonely classmate takes courage.  It takes willing being willing to step out and take a risk.  It may be scary, but it may also have wonderful results.  It takes courage.

Today, we are going to hear about Esther.  Esther was a queen and when her family was in danger, she bravely stood up to the king to protect them.  She stood up against his bullying.  It was a dangerous job to do, but she knew that it was time, this was her moment to stand up and be courageous.  God was with her and she was brave.

Let us pray:

God who is with us always,

Sometimes we are afraid.  Sometimes we are brave.  Always, you are with us.  Always you are giving us comfort and encouragement to grow and learn.  When we are afraid, remind us of your love and presence.  Even when we are afraid, help us to know when it is our time to be courageous.

Amen.

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Advent 3: Genesis 2

Did you know that you all have a superpower?  In fact, everyone has this superpower.  It is your breathing.  Maybe it doesn’t sound super because you do it all the time without even thinking about it.  But it really is like a super power.  When you take depth breaths, you can run faster, sing clearer, or even smell cookies sooner while they are baking.  You can even control some of your feelings with your breathing.  Next time you are angry or scared, trying breathing in and out slowly, even counting 1-2-3-4 as you breath in and 1-2-3-4 as you breath out.  You will be amazed how much breathing can help.

So, as amazing as our super power breathing is, can you imagine how super and amazing God’s breathing is?  Today in church we are going to hear about how God created our whole.  Can you guess how our world was created?  God’s breath.  God breathed and a wind came over the chaos and the whole world came into being.  God created with a big breath, but we create a new moment with each breath we take, big or little, happy or angry, scared and brave. God is in each breath we take and each moment we experience.

Prayer:

Emmanuel,

Sometimes we are afraid.  Sometimes we are brave.  When we breath in, you are with us.  When we breath out, you give us comfort and encouragement to grow and learn.  When we are afraid, remind us of your love and presence.  When others are afraid, help us remind them they are not alone.

Amen.

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Advent 4: Luke 5:1-10

How many of you have played Simon Says before?  Let’s try a little: “Simon says pat your head.  Simon says hop on one foot.  Simon says clap your hands three times.” (If the children are purists, you may have to tell them that Simon says to stop all of those actions, they may just stop when you say the next thing. Try to get them back to sitting however you can, whether you need to tell them that Simon says to sit down or not.) In today’s Bible story, Jesus gives two commands, just like Simon says.  Jesus has come to the house of a man Jairus.  To the grown ups in the house, Jesus says, “Do not fear!”  To the child in the house, a little girl who was so sick in her bed that some people thought she had died, Jesus took her hand and said, “Get up!”  Jesus heals her and she has a brand new chance to live her life.  This story is a miracle, but it also seems like really good advice for our church today.  Jesus, like Simon, says two major commands, “Do not fear!” and “Get up!”  So, let’s practice, Jesus says to the little girl, “Get up!” and she got up and started walking around so let’s stand up and walk in place.  Jesus tells the adults, “Do not fear!”  So let’s say that to our adults, say it with me “Do not fear!” (Maybe do this a couple times if the kids are not loud the first time).  Now, as we are standing, and while we walk in place, we are going to do another thing Jesus teaches us and say a prayer.

 

Emmanuel,

Sometimes we are afraid.  Sometimes we are brave.  You are always with us.  You are always there to tell us to “get up” and not to be afraid.  You fill our days with possibilities to live and to show your love in our world.  You created this wonderful world and you created each of us.  Help us to get up go out into the world without fear, sharing your love and your stories.  Amen

Hair

I have tons of pages of writing to do soon, so of course, here I am blogging about my hair instead.

During writing final reflections for CPE and reflecting upon all of the wacky things in life that have happened to drop me where I am right now in the journey of life and discernment I have one underlying thought going most of the time: I have lost my hairbrush. I have gone over a week without one. I have worked it out with strategic morning showers and ponytails, but it has made me think about my hair more than I have before, maybe ever.

For the most part, I like my hair. It is low maintenance and goes with the flow (everything I try like crazy to be). It does its own thing and wants little input from me about my plans for it. I also have come to hypothesize that it would be my biggest tell if life were an ongoing game of poker. The harder I am trying, the less my hair looks like it belongs on my head. The more tired I am the “more natural” (sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a gross way) it gets. When I am trying to psych myself for something (could be anything, paper writing, exercising, dealing with a new group or in the middle of an argument or heated debate) I go straight for the high pony tail.

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My hair speaking more truth to the magnitude of the experiences we had in the Middle East than my words or thoughts have been able to do.

My hair connects me to my family and at the same time marks my autonomy. When my brother wasn’t able to convince me that my out-of-place hair color was the truest mark of adoption, my hair made me remember my scotch-irish heritage and the way that my aunt taught me to flip my bangs out like Farrah Fawcett.

It isn’t always easy to point out the things we like about ourselves (or, using my I driven language that I have been practicing this summer in CPE-It isn’t always easy for me to point out the things that I like about myself) but this week, during the end of a beautiful but exhausting summer, in the midst of getting ready to move and travel around until fall term begins, and on a day where life seems to be un-catch-up-able, I like that my hair was its normal lion’s mane this morning and now seems to be more at peace. A peace that will seem gone tomorrow morning when I get out of bed, but will find its way back onto and inside my head again and again.

Nobody Warned Me (Ash Wednesday)

Yesterday I was able to experience Ash Wednesday in a new way.  I was given the task of placing the sign of the cross in ash upon the foreheads of those gathered to worship for our weekly campus chapel service.  I was nervous but I was also excited.  This is one of those pastor things that I was excited to do for the first time.

Nobody warned me.  They prepared me for the act, I practiced my “lines”, I dipped my finger into the bowl of ashes before chapel (to check about how much I needed for each person), I drew so many practice (ash-free) crosses on my own forehead that my friends joked I would have a red cross on my forehead all day.  But, nobody warned me.  

I stood up at the same time as those serving communion.  Then my friends started walking up.  My friends, my classmates, my professors, my mentors, people whose children I care for, people who I have come to with bad days, bad ideas, and bad attitudes, only to be met with grace and conversation.  And as I reminded them that they are from dust and to dust they shall return, it may have reminded them, but it certainly reminded me.  

I marked people I care about with the sign of death.  Who does that??  I stood there and reminded people I care deeply about that they were going to die and suffer.  It broke my heart.  Nobody warned me how much that would hurt.  

But then again, nobody warned the disciples what they were getting into by following this Jesus fellow.  Nobody warned Mary that for her baby to be the savior of the world, she would have to watch die in a public, horrific way.  Nobody warned them.  

Nobody warned me.

The Gospel of John

As you begin teaching John, it will be important that you teach his context and the ways in which the differences between his Gospel and the other three can be used as tools to investigate the overall story portrayed in all four Gospels, the story of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is good to remember that while there are some distinct differences between all the Gospels, but especially John, those differences are tools that enable your readers to get a fuller understanding of the faith and context of the earliest Christians.  If you, as their teacher, can help lead them through this journey, it may truly be a blessing for them (and you) to look at the story of Christ through the Gospel of John’s unique lenses.

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The Gospel of John. 

The one gospel that doesn’t quite seem to get on the same page with the other three.  Like Ringo Starr in the Beatles or Michelangelo in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Gospels wouldn’t be the same, full team of work without John’s Gospel, but it seems to always be mentioned last, and with some hesitation and extra explanation.  For this first lesson in John, we are going to look into the historical context of John in comparison to the context of the earlier Gospels and then we are going to spend some time looking into important theological statements we make in the church today that have their basis in John’s Gospels.

 

Historical Context:

 When it comes to the historical context of John, most scholars agree that John was written after the composition of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  According to Alan Culpepper’s The Gospel and Letters of John, the writing style seems to suggest that this Gospel was penned in a time more contemporary with the Epistles (the letters between the Christian leaders and the early congregations across a wide region).  This, for modern purposes, makes John a good choice to read as we end a series on the Gospels and begin preparing for lessons on the Epistles.

Culpepper notes that the style of the discourses recorded from words and lessons of Jesus are longer in John than the short sayings and parables in the other three Gospels.  John also is more out right and explicit when talking about the divine identity of Jesus and his follower’s response to his words and presence.  These differences contribute to the claim scholars make that John was written after the Synoptic Gospels.  The goal of Matthew, Mark, and Luke seems to be more frantic.  They are trying to get down as much as they could remember about what Jesus said and did.  By the time John began pinning his work, there wasn’t such a rush.  He was able to construct more of a narrative of the ministry of Christ.  His story was for a people who needed more of the background information and more of the details surrounding the lessons and actions of Christ for them to have as strong of an impact as they had for the early followers.

Another important historic circumstance to keep in mind as you discover the Gospel of John is the ways in which the Christians were separating themselves and being separated (because those two things are not the same and yet both important parts of the story) from the Jewish religion and culture.  John mentions multiple times (9:22, 35; 16:2) the seemingly harsh separation between the followers of Jesus and their heritage in the faith tradition of Judaism.  By the time John was writing, there seemed to be little doubt that the movement of following Christ was not a subset of Judaism, but an entirely different religious movement.  This realization of differences and separation created tension between those followers of Jesus and the Jewish culture and traditions surrounding them.  This tension is not cited in the time when Jesus was alive, but by the end of the first century, the separation had occurred.

 

            John’s Presence in Today’s Church

 

            In the PC(USA) we have four main references that we base our beliefs, governance and worship around.  The first is the Bible and obviously you realize the importance of our scriptures or you wouldn’t have gotten this far reading this blog.  The other three are special to the PC(USA).  The first two, the Book of Order and the Book of Confessions make up the Constitution of the PC(USA).  The third book, The Book of Common Worship is a resource used by pastors in almost every Presbyterian Church.  It provides pastors with prayers and liturgy for every aspect of church life, from weddings to funerals, baptism liturgy to the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving offered whenever the Eucharist (Communion) is shared. 

            As you are reading the Gospel of John, I thought it may have more meaning if you knew even just a few of the many ways John’s words shaped our church’s Constitution and regular worship.  Here are a few references from each book that use the words of John as their actual text or as a citation for their meaning

            In the Book of Order and the Book of Confession, there are not as many places where the Scriptures are quoted directly, but the words and lessons of the Gospels are often cited as the reasoning behind the actions and beliefs of the church.

 

The Second Helvetic Confession (found in the Book of Confessions) points to the words of John 3:16 in its discussion of people being elected for salvation based on the loving acts of Christ in his death and resurrection.

 

The Longer Catechism asks the question

“Q. 63. What are the special privileges of the visible church?

  1. The visible church hath the privilege of being under God’s special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies;2 and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation,3 and offers of grace by Christ, to all members of it, in the ministry of the gospel, testifying that whosoever believes in him shall be saved,4 and excluding none that will come unto him.

The last part of the answer comes from John 6:37

 

In the Book of Order’s introduction to Christian Worship, the very understanding of Jesus that we claim in our Presbyterian Worhsip (W-1.1003-Jesus Christ-In the person and work of Jesus, God and a human life are united but not confused, distinguished but not separated.) is based in part on John 1:1-14. 

 

 These are just a few of the many examples of the ways in which the teaching and writing of John are influencing our church today.  As you continue studying this unique Gospel, think of other ways that it has already been a part of your faith life, maybe without you even realizing it, and the ways in which it adds new dimensions to your understanding of Jesus, and his life, death and ministry.

Ash Wednesday

So, since I complained about seminary trying to ruin my Advent (not really ruin it, just change it…probably for the best in the long run, sometimes I just need to be in the moment and petty), I feel it is my duty to report to the three of you reading this that Seminary made my Ash Wednesday a meaningful and wonderful (in the deep, still kind of sad way that one is supposed to experience the start of Lent).

It started with chapel this morning.  Two of my friends here have a baby that was born on the last day of our Summer Hebrew class.  I threw them a baby shower with our whole class and every week as soon as they were bringing her to community events, I have had a weekly chance to hang out with Baby K.  This week, since both of her parents are in choir, I offered to hold Baby K during the service.  We did a pretty good job not being a distraction.  We missed about half of the sermon, but other than that, we held our own.  Being that is was Ash Wednesday, when we went up to receive Communion, as we do every week, we also received our ashes.  Since, by this point, Baby K was passed out in a deep sleep, I went up there, her in tow.  There was something in that moment that made me stop and ponder.  Here I was, having ashes spread on my forehead (with vigor I may add…if there are two pastors placing ashes, there is always one that does so with more fervor than the other) holding this baby whose journey in this world only began around 7 months ago.  I was holding this relatively new life in my arms as I was being reminded of my mortality, and the mortality of all.  That combination was both difficult and miraculous.  

Then tonight at the church I have been attending pretty regularly since I got to Richmond (initially due to the fact that it is about two and a half blocks from my backdoor, now I am beginning to get more into the life of the church there), we had an Ash Wednesday service in the style of Supper Church.  We shared the meal of the Eucharist as well as a meal of soup and salad around the same tables.  We sang, prayed, read scripture  and reflected together around those very same tables.  It was a celebration of being together and a reminder of the fact that even as we go into a season where we remember Christ being alone in the desert, we get to go into this time as a community.

Peace to all as we begin to walk this lonesome valley.

A little late to the game

Even though I am entire liturgical season behind (which is still avast improvement over the number of seasons behind I live in the world of fashion), I have an observation that I would like to make about Advent. But, as per my usual modus operandi, it all begins with a confession and a story.

The confession…I love Advent.  I know that this isn’t the type of confession that I need to say a ton of Hail Marys over, but it is an important character trait of mine to note.  I love Advent and everything it stands for.  I love the anticipation, I love the candles and the hymns that make you feel like Christmas (but AREN’T Christmas hymns), I love hearing about the Angels freaking everyone out with all of the good, but slightly terrifying news, of pregnancies and journeys to strange cities.

So, given my long term affection for Advent, it can be assumed that I thought this Advent was going to be the best ever.  I mean geeze, I am in my first year of seminary.  I have spent all fall reveling in the fact that I am constantly surrounded by people who are excited enough about the church to want to make it a career path.  Seminary is going to be the best place to experience the excitement of Advent.  Right?  Right? *insert dramatic pause* Wrong.  What I forgot in my excitement is that the joy of Advent and the miracle of Christ’s birth that it leads to, those are not things that being in a concentrated group of faith leaders makes you magically better at.  So, now the story.

There was an Advent chapel.  It was actually a pre-Advent Advent chapel, but due to the academic calendar and the fact we had to get a lessons and carols service in the schedule somewhere, we took a little dramatic licensing and began Advent four days early.  Well, I had signed up to be in this Advent Service Planning Group (because, well, I love Advent and I love being in a group of people who all love Advent).  We met before the Thanksgiving holiday and all got assignments.  I was in charge of the lighting of the Advent Wreath/Call to Worship.  I found this awesome hymn/response reading combo.  It named and claimed all four candles and was in one of the books we have in the chapel, so we could be green and not make 1000 copies.  I was on a roll. A wreath and lighter were found, and I even double and triple checked about which order to light them all in.  I was ready.

So, the chapel on campus is in the building that used to be the library.  It is a beautiful old building and the chapel is set right where the stacks were.  It is a great big open space.  I begin the talking part, lighting the first candle, the congregation was singing the first verse of the hymn, things were great.  Then, while lighting the second candle, I became keenly aware of the ferocity with which the building’s air conditioner was blowing.  In November.  That breeze was ruining everything.  The air hitting each candle at a different angle and force quickly made them uneven.  Some burned slowly and beautifully, others the candle was mostly gone by half way through the sermon…one didn’t make it through the Prayer of Confession before being blown out in the breeze.  Needless to say, I had a hard time being a good member of the assembled body.  My one job was ruined.  The part of the service I was in charge of was a hot mess.  No one was ever going to ask me to do chapel leadership again.  And then, during the prayers before communion, it hit me.  The candles weren’t ruined, they were just messy.  The Advent candles were messy.  Advent was messy.  Advent IS messy.

The pressure we put on Christmas and the preparation season is that it should be like a greeting card or a Hallmark movie.  Cheesy, beautiful, and clean cut family fun.  Advent is messy.  Sheep are messy.  Riding donkeys cross country is messy.  Stables are messy.  Babies are messy.  Having babies is messy.  Life is messy.  Faith is messy.  Advent is messy.  Advent candles are messy.

101 things to do in 1001 days

This is a blog idea that I stole from some friends of mine in Nashville.  Once I decided to do it though, I found many people that had great ideas of things to do.  The rules are that you get 1001 days (just under three years) to accomplish 101 tasks.  Some of them are bigger than others.

As I finish the things on my list, I will try and keep this blog updated.  I plan to begin on January 1st, 2013.  This puts the end date at Sept. 29, 2015.  Wish me luck because Here I Go!

1)      Go to an aquarium

2)      Go to DC when the cherry blossoms are in bloom

3)      Try 10 local restaurants

4)      Can three different types of food

5)      Complete a knitted blanket

6)      Be vegetarian for a month

7)      Go to an opera

8)      Visit the Richmond Holocaust Museum

9)      Journal daily for two months

10)   Preach a sermon in a church

11)   Plant a tree

12)   Finish my master’s degree

13)   Write a reflection of my HPC year

14)   Visit the Native American Museum in DC

15)   Travel to 5 states I have never been to before

16)   Go to a professional ballet

17)   Collect and Organize all the Bible Lessons for children that I have written

18)   Visit the Poe Museum

19)   Compost (and research composting)

20)   Host a wedding or baby shower

21)   Visit the Newseum

22)   Plant a garden of vegetables

23)   Write a Daily Lenten Devotion

24)   Send 10 letters to people who have been kiddos in my life

25)   Run/Walk a 5k

26)   Donate two groceries bags of stuff from home

27)   Read five books on spiritual journeys (not for school)

28)   Travel to 2 countries I have never visited before

29)   Write a reflection of my YAV year

30)   Blog twice a month for six months

31)   Visit NYC

32)   Visit 5 long distance friends

33)   Write five letters thanking mentors

34)   Read 3 Jane Austen books

35)   Go a month without eating out

36)   Go to a symphony

37)   Donate or pass along 6 books

38)   Work or volunteer at a Children’s Hospital

39)   Get a children’s book illustrated

40)   Add one thing to my budget that has been paid for up to this point in my life by my parents

41)   Volunteer at a soup kitchen in VA

42)   Take a class in photography

43)   Take and pass ordination exams

44)   Write an Advent Devotion

45)   Bake a pie

46)   Have lunch outside at the Café at VMFA

47)   Write a letter to 5 people that I know in 5 different states

48)   Learn the basics of a new language

49)    Visit 8 cities I have never been to before

50)    Go to a garden once each season and take pictures of the same plants in their seasonal forms

51)    Visit four churches just to hear my friends preach

52)   Go to the beach in VA

53)   Go to the live taping of a show

54)   Host a murder mystery dinner

55)   Go to Busch Gardens

56)   Watch Friday Night Lights (the complete series)

57)   Read The Chronicles of Narnia

58)   Make my own toothpaste

59)   Go to five weddings

60)   Work/Volunteer in a family counseling situation

61)   Go to a Hershey Park

62)   Host a game night

63)   Host a holiday party

64)   Revise my resume to be more churchy and less teachery

65)   Learn to make my own laundry detergent

66)   Live in a new state

67)   Visit 10 different churches

68)   Ride the bus home

69)   Ride the train to DC

70)   Take a road trip with others

71)   Make 6 crockpot recipes

72)   Bake a Pie

73)   Find and learn 3 freezable casserole recipes

74)   Write a reflection from my YAV year

75)   Make one “grown up” purchase

76)   Make five dishes that are like restaurant dishes that I love

77)   Make three Pinterest crafts

78)   Make three recipes off Pinterest

79)   Join a book club

80)   Read 5 books recommended by friends

81)    Organize children sermons on the computer

82)    Sing Karaoke

83)    Learn three vegan dessert recipes

84)    Make a meal completely from food I bought at a farmer’s market

85)    Get a massage

86)    Buy one complete outfit second hand and wear it to an event

87)    Take 100 pictures of nature

88)    Visit a vineyard

89)    Frame my Pansy paintings

90)    Watch 26 movies (one for each letter of the alphabet)

91)    Read 26 books (one for each letter of the alphabet)

92)   keep a “my day in 6 words journal” for 6 month

93)    personal

94)    Figure out my credit score and ways to improve it

95)    See an IMAX movie

96)    Volunteer three new places

97)    Send 10 birthday cards

98)    Do a 365.org project

99)    Attend a cycling class

100)  Pay for someone else’s coffee randomly 5 times

101)   Put $5 in savings for every complete task, for each uncompleted task at the end, I will donate $5 to charity

Start Date: 1-1-13

End Date:9-29-15