Sunday, November 28, 2010

Out of the Darkness of Despair, Shines the Light of Hope

First Week of Advent - Sermon November 28, 2010, on the text Isaiah 2:1-5.  What is hope?  What do you hope for?  In the midst of despair that would threaten to black out all light, hope is what keeps us going.  What is the source of your hope?

Family Advent Wreath - Nov 28, Week 1 - Hope

For more information on Advent, see my previous post on the Family Advent Wreath.  These meditations are for the weekly lighting of the Advent Wreath candles, so allow for more time for discussion.

Nov. 28, 2010, First week of Advent

We begin the season with hope.  Hope is what the promised coming of the Messiah gave to the children of Israel.  They hoped for many things: peace, saving grace, relationship with God.  How can we explain these things to children, especially when the children are very literal and many times what we hope for is conceptual?

We begin with the idea of hope.  What are some things the children hope for?  While it may be easy to start with their Santa Wish List, it confuses the message and they think of hope as wishing for things that are material.  Hoping is not the same as wishing.  Hope is belief that what you desire will actually happen.  You might ask your child(ren) what they would pray for.  

If they need some guidance you might be ready with some suggestions such as "God bless mommy and daddy."  Help them understand that when they say "God bless mommy and daddy," what they are really asking for is for mommy and daddy to feel well (not be sick), for mommy and daddy to be happy, and for the family to have the things they need, and maybe a little extra.  When we ask God to bless us in a general way, this is usually what we desire.  The children may have been taught to pray, "God bless so-and-so" but not what asking for God's blessings really mean.

What we pray for is what we hope and desire.  We may already have it, such as health and happiness, but we may hope it continues.  On the other hand, if a child has been around a loved one who is sick or suffering from depression, then they will understand what it means to hope for something we don't have.  If they have ever felt sick, they know what it is like to hope to feel better.

With experience we learn that bad times do not last forever, things will eventually get better, just like night will eventually become the day.  Children do not have enough life experience to understand this very well.  Sometimes when things aren't going so well, they feel like it is forever.  To them that is a real feeling, even if we find their theatrics amusing.  This can be magnified in teens who are already self-conscious.  If your child has had any of these types of circumstances recently, that would be a good place to start with hopes.  We have hope that our circumstances will improve, and believe that it will, we just may not know when or how. Hope is an act of faith.  It is the belief, in spite of circumstances, that things can and will get better.  This is faith, and is important to teach our children. 

As far as the meditations for Advent will go, we will have a time for you to discuss as a family the topic of the week, such as hope, and this will set the stage for the meditation.  It will be good to ask questions to get your children to participate in the discussion.

Then there will be a Scripture reading.  The Scriptures printed for this post are from the NRSV translation.  Maybe one of the children could read the scripture verse, the meditation, or the prayer.

Ask your child(ren) what does "hope" mean?

What does it mean to "hope for" something?

What are some things you hope for?

Scripture reading:  Isaiah 60:2-3
Arise, shine; for your light has come,
   and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 
For darkness shall cover the earth,
   and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
   and his glory will appear over you. 

The scripture tells us of people hoping for something.  What do you think they were hoping for?

(Darkness is used here metaphorically.  You might explain that to your children in a way they can understand. Talk about what it is like before the sun comes up.  It is the coldest time of the night.  We look for the sun to come up, and it is beautiful and brings warmth and light.  This scripture is talking about God's light being the light that comes when our world is dark, like the sunrise coming up in the morning. The verse is talking about the prophecy of a Messiah or chosen one of God who would shed light and save the world from darkness.)

They were hoping for God to send someone to help them.  God did send someone to help them.  Who did God send?  (The answer is, of course, Jesus.  You may have to give the children a few hints if they don't get the answer right away.)

When do we hope that God will help us?

Sometimes if we are afraid of the dark, we like to have a light left on, just a small one, to make us more comfortable.  To these people God's promise was like that night light, to bring comfort and get them through.
God gives us that same comfort.

Like when we wake up in the morning and can count on the sun rising to bring light and warmth to our world, we can also count on God to bring God's light and peace to our spirits in our time of need.  God sent his light to the world in the form of a person so everyone could understand.  Jesus brings that light to our lives and helps us to live in right relationship with God.

(Light the first purple or blue candle.  Any of the purple or blue candles will do, but we light them in an order of purple, purple, pink, purple, white; so it is best to start with the candle opposite of the pink in the circle.  If you are using a straight line, then you would set them up: purple, purple, white, pink, purple, and light from the ends; i.e., right outside purple, left outside purple, pink candle, purple inside, white.  Please make sure there is adult supervision for any child using matches or a lighter to light the candle.  Also, please supervise your child as long as the candle is lit.)

God, just as we see this light from a candle shining in our home, help us to see your light in our lives and in our world.  Jesus thanks for bringing that light to shine in our darkness, and for showing us that God loves us and wants to be in relationship with us.  Amen.

(You may wish to leave the candle burning for a bit.  If so, please ensure that children are not able to burn themselves or accidentally begin a fire.  It is permissible to talk for a bit longer, maybe about what they hope for, and then blow it out when you are finished with the time of devotion.)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Family Advent Wreath

Advent means, "the coming of" or "the arrival of" something important.  The season of Advent in the Christian tradition means the coming of or arrival of the Messiah, who we accept to have been in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Advent is a season of preparation for Christians world wide. 

With such a secular emphasis being placed on the time preceding Christmas Day with shopping and sales and parties, children confuse the real meaning of Christmas (the birth of the Christ child) with the tradition of culture (Santa Claus).  While the Santa Claus tradition started in Christian tradition with a generous Bishop, Santa unfortunately has become far removed from the true meaning of Christmas.  If you would like a story to read to your child which incorporates Santa into the Christian tradition, I recommend "A Special Place for Santa."

Considering all the hoopla that goes with the build up to Christmas with " x number of shopping days until Christmas" and the hype culture places on receiving rather than giving, it is difficult for children to understand the significance and importance of the preparing for the coming Messiah.  It is especially difficult because many times parents do not know how to talk with their children about Advent.

The story of the baby born in a manager is what we focus on, but we forget the why.  We forget that there were generations anxiously awaiting the coming of this child.  We neglect to tell the story before the birth that makes the coming of the Messiah so special, and the real meaning of Christmas loses its significance.  To reclaim the anticipation that the season of Advent brings, which enables us to truly celebrate the birth of the Christ, we must build this anticipation and longing.  We must go back and try to imagine a time without Christ.

To help parents teach their children the significance of Advent, I will be posting Family Advent Wreath meditations for parents and children to do together as you light a candle each Sunday of Advent.  You will need Advent candles.  These can be a simple as votive candles placed in a circle, or there are many styles available for purchase.  For those families who are in Cushing, we will have some available for you to purchase at the church.  I hope this is helpful for those of you with children and teens.

There are five candles total:  3 purple (or blue), 1 pink (rose), and1 white.  Any type of candle holders placed in a circle on inline works just fine.  There are some available on line, many of these do not have the white candle (Christ candle) which is always placed in the center, so you would need to supply that as well.  Here are a few links for Advent Wreaths online:

A simple one from Amazon (you would need to purchase the center Christ candle in white)
A fabric one with attachable candles (for parents of smaller children if you are worried about fire)
One with the nativity figures (candles not included)
There are many others available just search for "advent wreath and candles."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Good Food

Sermon November 21, 2010 on John 6:25-35.  Jesus makes the "I am" statement saying he is the bread of life come down from heaven.  The crowd kept wanting bread that perishes, or a sign (although Jesus had performed many).  What do we ask from Jesus that we are asking for the wrong thing?

The children of Israel in the wilderness found that if they hoarded the manna, it would spoil.  When we hoard Jesus, try to keep Jesus just to ourselves, without sharing with others, we find that we are spiritually empty, even though we know where to find the bread of life.  How do we hoard Jesus?

This thanksgiving, as we give thanks, let us also ask how we are, as the body of Christ in the world, to be bread of life for others.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Giving Thanks

The table is set with the finest, and the feast is laid; there is turkey, and sometimes ham.  Generally, you can find a selection of potatoes mashed, scalloped and au gratin.  Green bean casserole is always a favorite, and we must have buttery rolls, rich gravy, cranberry sauce, and stuffing.  Often there are sweet potatoes with gooey marshmallows browned and melting on top, and a variety of pies, pecan, pumpkin, and apple to name just a few.  We gather with family and/or friends, and sometimes even our pets.  There are parades and sporting events on the television to entertain us, and overall it is a time and a space to eat our fill and then take a late afternoon nap drifting away as some of the younger family members play games or just chat and catch up on life.  Thanksgiving is a time we stop and say thank you for the blessings in our lives.  And this is just one of many scenarios that are played out in America on the fourth Thursday of November.

However, for many people, this is just another day.  For many there isn’t enough money or food to fully set a feast.  Maybe our family doesn’t get along, or we find ourselves alone.  Maybe there is a crisis going on and we find we are away from family, friends.  One Thanksgiving Day when I was a child I remember watching two boxes of frozen turkey dinners, the kind in a little compartmentalized tray, slowly making their way down the conveyor belt at the grocery store checkout.  They were just right about eye level with me, and I watched as they slowly made their way to the clerk who punched the prices into the cash register, took my father’s money and placed the boxes in a paper sack.  I don’t remember much being said.  Did the woman think it strange that an older man and a young girl were buying frozen turkey dinners on Thanksgiving Day rather than having a turkey dinner with all the trimmings with family?

My mother was in the hospital, and while daddy took care of me well, he was by no means the primary caretaker of little girls.  Mom had many health issues when I was little, and from the somber tone, although I am sure I was not fully informed on everything going on, it seemed pretty serious.  I remember it was a cold, gray, drizzly day and dad was trying to keep the spirit of Thanksgiving.  The problem was it just didn’t seem like a festive day.  There were no traditions kept or relatives to see.  There were no dishes to do or ignore.  We had frozen turkey dinners and went to visit mom in the hospital.

Since then, I have given some thought as to the purpose of Thanksgiving.  Originally, it was a time to thank God for the harvest and for the settlers’ good friends, the Native Americans, who kept them alive in a strange new land.  It was a religious moment when we could give thanks as the scriptures instruct “in all circumstances.”  That day as a child, I remember my father bowing his head and giving thanks to God for all God’s mercies.  That day I began a journey that took years to travel of understanding how to give God thanks in all circumstances.

Any more Thanksgiving is more of a secular holiday than religious.  A day off work, a day to feast, watch football and parades, a day to visit relatives, some you may never see (or really want to) at any other time.  But in my heart it will always be a memory of my father bowing his head over a frozen turkey dinner thanking God for God’s mercies.  This Thanksgiving I would encourage you to give thanks in all circumstance and to lift a prayer of petition for those who may not be celebrating as you might – those who are hungry or thirsty – those who are sick or in prison – those who live impoverished lives – those who are isolated or alone – those who need love or reconciliation.  Pray for those who God loves and many times we forget, and give thanks.

Published in The Corridor Magazine, November 2010 issue

Raising Children

Sermon, November 14, 2010, Children's Sabbath.  The text used was Acts 2:17-18, Proverbs 22:6, and Matthew 18:1-5.  Children are a gift of God, but Jesus also encouraged us to become like a child to be able to see the kingdom of heaven.  Do we have the eyes of a child?  Can we see what they see?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Do This in Remembrance of Me

Sermon Sunday, November 7, 2010 on 1 Corinthians 11:17-29.  Paul was admonishing the Church at Corinth for their divisiveness.  He was also instructing them on how to worthily take the Lord's Supper, the Sacrament of Jesus.  How do we let our attitude about others diminish our joy at receiving the sacrament?