Archive for September, 2012

'Plastic flowers #3' photo (c) 2005, Dave Gingrich - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

A Silk Sunflower

The Christian Post online recently published an interesting interview with Ken Myers entitled Is “The Culture” Really the Church’s Problem?  Myers is the founder and host of the Mars Hill Audio journal, a bimonthly audio magazine featuring interviews with Christian thinkers in the areas of academics, politics, and the arts.  Myers doesn’t believe that the broader culture in general is the biggest challenge facing the Church today. Rather, he believes that culture inside the church is the problem.  Instead of being transformed by the gospel, many believers’ lives are conformed to the culture around them, as Paul warns against in Romans 12.  It’s a thought-provoking interview.

Here is a provocative excerpt about the dangers of segregating people in the church by age:

“One of the biggest and most consequential forms of cultural captivity of the Church is the way Christians have accepted the rise in the mid-twentieth century of what we call “youth culture,” with its assumption that intergenerational discontinuity is the norm.

“Marketers have successfully entrenched the notion of youth culture by creating product lines that are intended to define adolescent identity as a deliberate rejection of parental expectations. Not only does this age segregation weaken the family’s ability to pursue the cultural task of moral transmission, it also weakens the understanding of the family itself. A proper understanding of the meaning of family is intergenerational in all directions.

I agree with Myers.  I believe that a proper understanding of church family is also “intergenerational in all directions.”  Unless younger generations and older generations interact with and mentor one another in the church, how can we hope to pass on genuine Christian faith and passionate discipleship?

Here is something for smaller congregations to consider: it can be a blessing not to be able to segregate people in the congregation by age.  We naturally work and interact intergenerationally.  We have to.


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'Concentration' photo (c) 2006, Miika Silfverberg - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Christian educator Carolyn Brown put up this excellent post about using drawing to draw children into worship.    It’s entitled “Worshiping with Pencils and Crayons.”

Here is an excerpt:

Before a scripture that you can easily visualize, ask the children to listen then draw what they hear.  In some cases you can leave it general, e.g. draw a picture of the slaves walking to freedom through the sea.  In other cases hone the task, e.g. ask the children to draw the faces of Mary and Martha during their spat about who did all the work.
At the beginning of the sermon pose a question asking the children to draw a picture of their answer to the question.  Suggest they might listen to the sermon for ideas.  “We are going to be thinking together about using money to help others.  While you listen, draw pictures of ways you can use money to help another person.”
Early in the service give children a sheet of paper with the words of a prayer or one verse in a hymn that you will sing later in the service to decorate or illustrate and then use when singing or praying.  Creation hymns are especially easy candidates for illustration.
Encourage children to draw their prayers.  On a sheet of paper they can simply draw and write words of everything they want to talk with God about today talking to God as they do.  Their drawings might be in the sections of a scribbled pattern or simply splashed all over the page.
To convince the children that their work is an important part of worship….
Invite them forward to show you their art and talk briefly about it.
Invite them to tape their art to a rail at the front of the chancel or tack it on a special bulletin board in the back.  One preacher I know has a bulletin board on his office door especially for the children to leave him drawings and notes.
Invite children to drop their drawings into the offering plates as they are passed as a gift to God.
Take time to talk briefly with children about their drawings as they leave the sanctuary.  Shake hands with the adults, talk art with the children.

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'IMG_3240' photo (c) 2007, Bo Gordy-Stith - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Sunday morning worship is the family reunion of the whole family of God.  Christian educator Carolyn Brown has a marvelous web site called Worshiping with Children.  It offers many helps for planning worship for a multigenerational congregation.  She shows ways to include children so that they can participate alongside adults.  She includes many resources related to the Sunday texts of the Revised Common Lectionary, and she posts them several weeks ahead.  Recently she posted a list of helpful hints for parents as they and their children debrief after worship.  It is called The Van Trip HomeHere is a sample from this post:

“Talk about good things that happened at church.    One parent urges his children to look for one worship “take away”, i.e. something they want to remember (and yes, jokes from the sermon count).  His children know he will ask about theirs in the car on the way home each week and so they try to have an answer ready to get Dad off their case if nothing else.  Other parents kick off this discussion with questions like “what was one good thing that you did this morning at church?”  or “which song did you like best?” or “what did you think about….?”  “who did you see at church this morning?”

You can search the site by scripture text or by date in the lectionary.  If you are preaching or teaching on lectionary texts, you can also find lectionary-related resources for children at Children’s Literature: A Resource for Ministry, which recommends books related to the scripture lessons and themes..

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'Take Up Your Cross' photo (c) 2009, Godly Sheep - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/The Gospel lesson for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) is Jesus’ first passion prediction in Mark.  When Jesus told his disciples that he must die before rising again, and that they, too, must die and rise, it took their breath away.  The Way of the Cross is definitely the road less taken.  But are we being truthful in our Christian witness when we tiptoe around the pain and the demands of the cross?  Here is a sermon from my archives on this text. It contrasts the Way of the Cross with the way of self-fulfillment.

A Divine Mindset

A Sermon on Mark 8:27-38

Peter’s longing was the longing of all Israel.  Peter longed for the time when God’s anointed one, the Messiah, would take the throne himself, liberate the nation from oppression, and restore its power to what it was when King David reigned.  Israel would be in control of its own life again.  No more Roman procurators.  No more Pontius Pilate.  No more Roman soldiers.  No more Roman crucifixions.

The sight of crucified bodies was a common one.  At times the roads were lined with them, cross after cross, and the message to the people was clear: this is what will happen to you if you dare to challenge Roman authority.  How everyone longed for all that to stop!  How everyone longed for a new king, a righteous king of their own!

Peter was right—Jesus was the anointed one.  Moreover, he had reason to believe that Jesus would fulfill all their hopes.  He and the other disciples had witnessed Jesus casting out unclean spirits that fought against God and caused untold suffering.  He even made the wind be quiet!  That’s power!  They had witnessed many healings, even one in Peter’s own family, when Jesus lifted up his mother-in-law, as we saw last week.  That’s power!  Peter and all the rest were on hand and participated when Jesus fed 5000-plus hungry people with only a little food, and then did it again later for a crowd of 4000.  That’s power!  Yes, Jesus certainly had the power, and that made the victory they all longed for seem so close.   The crown seemed so close.  At last, everything was going to get better.  At last, everything was going to get easier.  Never again would their stomachs turn at the sight of a cross.

It must have felt like Jesus had slapped Peter!  What did Jesus say?  No, it can’t be!  No, Jesus’ journey can’t lead to a cross.  This road leads to a crown.  The Messiah must not die!  If Jesus dies, that’s the end of the dream.  Jesus will be just one more in a long line of failed liberators, and we’ll be right back where we started!

Jesus was talking foolishness, and Peter started to tell him so.  He rebuked Jesus.  Matthew tells us what Peter said.  “God forbid!” Peter exclaims in Matthew.  “This shall not ever happen to you!”  And implied is this: “And it had better not happen to us, either!”

It must have felt like another slap in the face when Jesus, with his eye on all the disciples, rebuked Peter in the strongest possible way.  “Get behind me, Satan!  Get out of my way, Satan!  You’re working for Satan.  You mind is on human things, not on the things of God!  You’re not set on God’s way.  You’re set on YOUR own way.  You’re set on what YOU want.”

And as if that weren’t enough, Jesus gathered the crowd around him along with the disciples and told them all, “The cross is the way.  If you want to be my disciples, then the cross must be your way, too.  You must deny yourself, put your life on the line, shoulder up your cross, and follow after me.  For those who seek to save their own life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

Jesus calls his disciples to accept the pain that comes from trying to do the will of God, the conflict that so often gets aroused when you obey God.  The accusations that Jesus endured would be theirs—this one for example: what on earth are you doing associating with THOSE people?

Jesus calls us to come with him and die and then to let God raise us to new life.  The center of our concern cannot be me, mine, we and us.  Serving ourselves and keeping ourselves alive cannot be the goal.  Our heart, soul, mind and strength must be set on the things of God, the will and the way of God.  (more…)

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Here are two different video interpretations of a musical setting of “The Deer’s Cry” (St. Patrick’s Breastplate). St. Patrick’s Breastplate is an ancient Celtic Christian prayer.  There are a number of translations of it from the Old Irish, including this one by Cecil Frances Alexander.

The composer of this setting is Shaun Davey of Dublin, Ireland.  The first clip is a music video by the singer Angelina. You can find more of her music at AngelinaSings.com.  The second video is a montage of images along with the lyrics, and the background singer is Rita Connolly.  You can read more about her here.  The audio of this second clip comes from Shaun Davey’s CD “The Pilgrim.”  I like both of these clips.  It is interesting to note the simlarities and differences in visual interpretation, especially when the piece reaches these words:

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise, Christ to shield me…

What does it mean that Christ is all around and within us?  What implications does that have for us?


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   What can we make of Jesus’ harsh reply to the Syrophoenician woman who came to him for help?  Here’s a sermon from the archives for the fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.  It includes an allusion to the lively discussion between God and Moses about the golden calf in Exodus 32.

Going to the Dogs

A Sermon on Mark 7:24-30, with allusions to Exodus 32:7-14

This was one determined Gentile mama!  Whatever it took to get help for her sick child, this woman would do it, even if it meant getting in somebody’s face.  Even if it meant breaking the taboos against a woman speaking to a man in public.  Even if it meant crossing the line that kept Gentiles and Jews separate.  Even if it meant risking a rebuke or worse.  Mark doesn’t tell us the family history, but if this woman of Syrophoenicia was anything like some of the mothers I’ve seen seeking help for their children in need, she left no stone unturned.  She went to every doctor.  She tried everything.  She refused to give up.

Jesus the healer came to town.   Mark tells us he was trying to get away, trying to stay hidden for a while.  It’s not hard to see why.  Just in the two previous chapters of Mark Jesus had experienced rejection at his hometown and coped with the horrible news of the murder of John the Baptist.  He had fed 5000-plus people with only a little food.  He had argued with his adversaries the scribes and Pharisees about what truly is clean or unclean in the sight of God.  He even had to explain it all again to his disciples, who themselves were thoroughly indoctrinated into the view that touching certain things or being with certain people contaminated you.  The disciples didn’t get it, just as they didn’t get a lot of what Jesus taught.  He had to keep working with them.  Jesus had to be tired when he arrived at this woman’s town.  He needed a retreat.

Perhaps that could explain the harshness of Jesus’ response.  When the woman heard Jesus was nearby, she immediately sought him out and begged him to help her daughter.  I don’t know what tone of voice he used, but this is what he said: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Whoa!  It’s hard to imagine that Jesus would call even his worst enemy a dog.  Had he actually bought the prejudice of the day, that Gentiles were dogs?  (more…)

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The Hungry Coat makes a marvelous illustration for James’ stern warning against showing partiality to the wealthy and well-dressed.  Children’s author and illustrator Demi retells a delightful folk tale about Sufi mystic Nasrettin Hodja.  Nasrettin was known for his wisdom and wit, and many stories are told about him.  If you search for them, you will find many spellings of his name, including Nasrudin, Nasreddin and Nasr-id-deen.

In this story a friend invites Nasrettin to a banquet.  Wearing his old patchwork coat, Nasrettin sets out for the banquet.  Along the way he stops to help capture a runaway goat.  When Nasrettin arrives at his friend’s house, the friend, the servants, and all the other guests ignore him. He realizes that it is because his coat is now dirty and smelly as well as worn-out.  Nasrettin hurries home, bathes, puts on a magnificent new coat, and returns to the banquet.  Now everyone is glad to welcome him.   Delicious food is set before him, which he proceeds to feed to his coat.  “Eat, coat!  Eat!” he says.  The host and guests are aghast.  “Why surely you wanted my coat to eat,” Nasrettin responds.  “When I first arrived in my old coat, there was no food for me.  Yet when I came back in this new coat, there was every kind of food for me.  This shows that it was the coat–and not me–that you invited to your banquet.”

James writes, “For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (vss.4-5).

For at God’s banquet it is the poor and sick and marginalized who have priority seating.

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