Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mistaken Identity

Mistaken Identity
Lent 1
Mark 8:27-38

Good morning!  Today, I want to start off with a question.  How many of you have ever been called by the wrong name?  Raise your hand if this has every happened to you.  Maybe your mom or dad called you by your brother's or sister's name.  I have a friend named Susan who has four sisters.  Her mother used to call her and she'd sometimes go through everybody else's name before she got to Susan's--"Julie, her, Abby, I mean Carol, no, Kaitlyn, um, Sammie, no, SUSAN!  Will you come here a minute, please, Susan?"  Sammie was the dog.

Sometimes people don't just make a mistake with our name, but they get us totally confused with someone else.  Identical twins have this happen all the time.  But maybe it's been a while since you've seen some friends of your parents', say, and you've grown a lot, so they get you mixed up with your older brother or sister.  Or maybe you just look a lot like someone you've never even met and a stranger comes up and starts talking to you like you're old friends.  They have you confused with another person!

I was in the grocery store by myself one time, and a little child about two years old came up to me and latched on to my leg.  He was sure surprised when he looked up and saw that I wasn't his mother (father)!

One time, Jesus was traveling with his disciples, and while they walked, Jesus asked them, "Who do people say that I am?"  Jesus knew that the public might be confused about him.  Stories were getting around about Jesus--that he healed the sick; that he argued with the religious leaders; that he understood things about the Scriptures and God that people twice his age didn't know.  Folks must have been wondering, "Who is this Jesus, anyway?"

The disciples shared some of the guesses they had heard others make.  "Some say you're John the Baptist.  Others think you're Elijah and still others think you're one of the prophets."  Then Jesus asked what he really wanted to know.  "But who do you, my disciples and closest friends, say that I am?" he asked.  Peter knew the right answer.  He said, "You are the Messiah sent from God."

Then Jesus began to teach the disciples what it meant for him to be the Messiah, the One sent to save the people from their sin.  He told his friends that he would need to suffer pain and rejection.  He told them he would be killed, and after three days, he would rise again.  Being God's chosen Messiah was not an easy job!  It wasn't all healing and miracles and good times.  There were going to be some really hard times ahead, too.

Peter didn't like what he was hearing.  He pulled Jesus aside and started to argue with him.  "No, Jesus!  This couldn't happen to you!  You've been chosen by God!"

But Jesus cut Peter off and told him that he wasn't looking at the big picture.  The hard times were a necessary part of God's plan.  Being Jesus, and being a disciple of Jesus would not always be easy, but Jesus promised that faithfulness would always be worth it. 

Jesus knew who he was.  We know who we are, too.  We are his disciples.  We are Christians.

Let's Pray.  Dear God, we thank you for Jesus and his willingness to suffer for our sakes.  Give us the strength and courage to be his faithful disciples when it's easy and when it's not so easy, too.  Amen.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Baptism of Jesus

The Baptism of Jesus
The Baptism of Jesus

Lent 1
Mark 1:9-15
Props: Copy of Photo 
Your church's baptismal font, bowl, baptistry, with water

This story describes the baptismal practices of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.  You may need to adopt the details to reflect the traditions of your particular church or denomination, should they differ.

Good morning, everyone!  Today we are going to talk about one of the most important things that we do as a church.  We don't do it every week, like singing hymns and praying prayers.  This ceremony is so special, so sacred, that it is called a sacrament--the sacrament of baptism.

Different churches perform baptisms in slightly different ways, but they all have four things in common--a person to be baptised, a congregation, water and God.

In our church, the person coming to be baptised can be any age.  He or she can be an adult who has decided to follow Jesus, or a baby or child whose parents want their daughter or son to grow up in a Christian home and church.

Water is poured into this special bowl, called a baptismal font (show your font).  Can you all say that?  Baptismal font.  Very good.  Prayers are said asking God to bless the water for its special, sacred use in baptism.  Then Pastor Chris dips his hand into the font and lets the water run over the head of the person being baptised.  Sometimes the babies are startled by the water and cry, but not too often.

When a baby is baptised, its parents and everyone in the congregation promise to love and nurture the child, teaching him or her about Jesus so that she or he will grow up knowing God's love and what it means to be a Christian.  Baptism is a way for parents to say, "I believe in the promises God has made in the Bible to love and care for my children and me, and I want my child to learn about and follow Jesus every day."  Baptism is also a way of saying, "Yes!" to God's invitation to enter the community of faith, or the church.

Jesus was baptised by his cousin, John the Baptist, in the Jordan River. When Jesus was baptised, God was very pleased. Jesus started his God work of teaching, preaching and healing soon after his baptism. And later in his ministry, he told his disciples to go out into the world sharing the Good News of God's love and forgiveness. They were to make disciples and baptise those who chose to follow Jesus. Now, over 2,000 years later, those disciples include us!
Let's Pray.  Our Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gifts of baptism and inclusion in the community of faith.  Help us to live as Jesus' faithful disciples each and every day. Amen.

As they leave the area to return to their seats, you may invite the children to touch the water in the baptismal font.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Noah's Noisy Ark

Noah's Noisy Ark
Lent 1
Genesis 9:8-17
Props: The Congregation

If you missed the January 15 Children's Story Today retelling of the Jonah story in this congregation-participation format, here is a second chance to use a storytelling method that is fun and effective.  If you did share The Story of Jonah, a Big Fish and Making Good Choices, it may be a bit soon for a repeat.  I plan to post an alternative in the next day or two based on the Baptism of Jesus, so check back if the following doesn't work for you this week.  For those new to CST, however, read on and enjoy!

Divide the congregation into groups.  Invite each group to respond with the words or actions below each time its assigned word is spoken in the story.

God - Ask the church organist in advance to strike the music for the first "Halleluia!" of Handel's famous Chorus from Messiah
Noah - This group raises its hand and says, "Here!"
Ark - This group sings the first words to "Sailing, Sailing!" or "Row, Row, Row Your Boat"
Animals - Each person in the room makes his or her favorite animal noise
Rainbow - This group points at the sky and says, "Ooh, pretty!"

Now, read the story:

Everybody on the earth was rotten to the core.  Everybody, that is, except for one family.  The Lord God was fed up.  The Lord decided to clean up the whole mess and start over again with the one family in the world who would listen to God's commands.  So God said to Noah, "I need you to do something for me.  I want you to bild me a big boat--an ark, if you will.  It has to be really big, huge, enormous.  When you are done, you and your family are going to put two of every kind of animal inside the big boat to protect them when I flood the earth.  You'd better get started.  I feel a rain cloud coming on."

So Noah built the ark according to God's blueprints.  His neighbors asked him what he was doing.  "Building an ark," he said.  "Why?" they asked.  "Because the Lord told me to.  God is going to send a flood and destroy the earth, you know."  His neighbors laughed.  Noah kept hammering.

Finally, the ark was finished.  Noah, his wife, their three sons and their wives started gathering up the animals.  They put two of every kind of animal in the ark--llamas and lambs, hyenas and hedgehogs, cattle and cats, robins and roosters, snakes and slugs, flies and flamingoes.  That huge ark was filled from top to bottom with every kind of critter under the sun.  Noah slammed the great door of the ark shut.

A day went by.  Nothing happened.  Two days went by, then three.  Still nothing happened.  Finally, after a week, it began to sprinkle.  Next it rained.  Then it poured.  It rained and it poured like nobody's business.  It rained and poured for days and days.  The animals became restless.  The bugs wanted to dig in the dirt  The sheep wanted to graze on the fresh spring grass.  The birds longed to soar through the sky.  The rain kept falling.

But God did not forget Noah and the animals.  After forty days and forty nights, the rain stopped.  The clouds disappeared.  The sun shone brightly, and everyone inside the ark cheered.  The water all around the big boat went down, down, down until the ark rested on the top of a tall mountain.

Noah knew the earth was dry when he set a dove free and it didn't come back.  He opened the big, heavy door.  The bright sun streamed in.  Everyone cheered again.  Noah and his family led the animals outside the ark into the sunlight to begin a new life on the fresh-scrubbed earth.

The first thing Noah did was to build an altar and worship God, who then gave Noah a blessing and a promise.  "I am now making my promise with you and your descendants, and with all the animals," said the Lord God.  "I promise I will never wipe out the whole world with a flood again.  I will put a rainbow in the sky, and every time I see the rainbow I will remember my promise not to flood the whole world again."

Noah breathed a sigh of relief and said, "Thank-you, God."

The End.

Let's Pray:  Dear God, help us to remember your promise, your love and forgiveness each time we see a rainbow in the sky.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Jesus Heals the Paralytic

Jesus Heals the Paralytic
Ordinary 7
Mark 2:1-12
Prop: Copies or downloads of photo 1 and photo 2 below

Good morning, boys and girls!  We have been talking the past couple of weeks about Jesus healing people.  There is one more miracle story I want to share with you today, but first I need to explain a little about how houses were built in First Century Palestine, when Jesus lived there.  For this story, we need to understand how the roofs were made.

The walls of houses were built of mud bricks.  Then wooden supports were laid from one side of the building to the other, resting on the walls, creating beams.  Woven reed mats or sticks were placed on top of the wooden support beams.  Then, layers of clay mortar were smeared on top of the mats to make a solid surface.  The roofs were flat, and people often did household chores or stored things on the roof.  Here's a picture of a fairly large farmhouse of the time:

Now, on with the story.  Jesus was in Capernaum.  Word got out that he was staying in a house there.  Lots of people stopped by to visit Jesus, to listen to what he had to say.  They wanted to see the teacher/healer who was becoming pretty famous.  Jesus taught the people gathered about God.  The house, the yard and the street became very crowded. 

A small group of people came to see Jesus.  They had heard about the miracles Jesus had performed, healing people everyone thought could never be cured of their ailments.  This group brought with them a friend who could not walk.  He was paralyzed.  Four of the paralyzed man's friends carried him on a stretcher, but when they got close to the house, it was obvious they were not going to be able to knock on the front door and walk in.  It was too crowded!  They couldn't get Jesus' attention by waving through the window, either--too many people.  The paralyzed man was bitterly disappointed, as were his friends.  They all felt Jesus was the only hope the man had of ever walking again.  They all believed with all their might that if they could just get in to see Jesus, he could heal the man.

Then one of the friends had an idea--the roof!  "Let's take our friend up on the roof, dig a hole, and lower him down to the room below where Jesus is teaching," he said.  At first, the group wasn't sure this was such a great idea.  It wasn't their roof, after all.  But it didn't take long for them to realize this plan was their only hope of getting help for their friend.  Enabling a person to walk again was much more important than a hole in the roof!

So that's what they did.  They carried their paralyzed friend on his palette, or mat, up the outside steps to the flat roof of the house.  They dug a hole in the outside layer of clay.  They tore out the woven reed mats, and made a hole something like this:

Jesus heals a paralytic at Capernaum
The friends looked through the hole, down to the room below, and saw Jesus, the disciples and others looking back up at them!  It was now or never!  They had come too far to chicken out, so the friends lowered the paralyzed man down through the hole they made to where Jesus waited for him in the room below.

Jesus' reaction to all the commotion was interesting.  He wasn't angry about the hole in his roof.  He was not irritated that his teaching was rudely interrupted.  He was amazed and impressed by the strong faith the man and his friends had, and so he said to the man, "Son, your sins are forgiven."

Some of the people listening to Jesus thought he was out of line to tell the paralytic that his sins were forgiven.  They said, "Who can forgive but God alone?"  But Jesus told them his authority came from God--to forgive and to make whole.  He said to the man, "Stand up, take your mat and go to your home."  And that's exactly what the man did.  He stood up.  He picked up the mat he'd been lying on for so long, and he walked out in front of the whole crowd.  Of course, they were amazed and glorified God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"

Let's Pray.  Kind and Loving God, we, too are amazed by the Power and Love of Jesus, which makes each of us healthy and whole.  Help us to share his love with others.  Amen.

Friday, February 10, 2012

News too Good to Keep

Mark 1:40-50

Good morning! Have you ever had good news--great news--news so wonderful that you couldn't wait to tell someone? The story this morning is about a young man who had an experience like that. Let's call him Eli.

Eli worked in an inn owned by his father, Jethro. Their inn was a busy place, full of travelers needing food or a bed. Eli worked long hours doing all kinds of jobs--from taking care of guests' animals to checking people into their rooms and sweeping the floor. Eli worked hard, but he didn't mind. He liked helping make their business a success -- for his father's sake and his own. He knew that one day the inn would be his.

One day, Eli was changing into a clean shirt when he noticed an odd rash on his arm. He didn't think too much about it and went into the inn to help his mother serve dinner. A few days later, he noticed the rash had spread and there was another spot on his other arm.

Eli lived a long, long time ago. There were doctors then, but not like today. And many diseases that are easy to cure today with medicine and other modern treatments baffled the doctors back then. One of those diseases was leprosy. Everyone was afraid of leprosy. No one knew how to cure it and nobody wanted to catch this skin disease. People who came down with leprosy were forced to leave their homes and their communities and live alone or in a leper colony with others who suffered from the disease.

When Eli looked at the rashes on his skin, he became afraid. Leprosy! For a long time, he hid his problem from the guests at the inn, his friends, even his mother and father. He didn't want to have to leave the inn. But eventually the disease spread to his hands and neck and he could hide it no longer. His family hid Eli from the guests because they couldn't bear to let him go any more than he could bear to leave. He ate and slept in the stable with the animals and tried to stay out of sight.

Then one day, a guest came to the stable super-early to get his donkey. He saw someone sleeping in the stable, and moved his lantern closer to see who it was. When he saw the spots of leprosy on Eli's skin, the man ran from the stable shouting, "Unclean! Unclean!"

Eli woke wth a start. He heard the man's shouts and knew immediately they were about him. He ran from his home, his life, everything he knew and loved. He didn't even say "Good-bye" to his parents because he knew if the authorities found him there, his mother and father would be in trouble.

From that moment on, Eli lived the sad life of a leper. Then one day, he heard rumors about a man who was traveling about, teaching about God and healing people of all kinds of diseases. "Maybe this holy man could heal me, too," he thought. Finding Jesus was not all that hard. People everywhere talked about him and the amazing works he did. When Eli found Jesus, he kneeled in front of him and begged to be healed. "If you choose, you can make me clean," Eli said. Jesus reached out his hand, touched Eli and said, "I do choose. Be made clean!" Immediately, the leprosy disappeared and Eli's skin was healthy and clean again.

What a miracle! Eli had his health back! And with his health, he could get everything else back, too--his family, his friends, his work, his inn, his place in the community! He could go back to his life, but I'm sure his life was never the same for him again. Because now he knew for himself how strong the power of God is.

Before Jesus left Eli, Jesus did something we still don't completely understand today. He told Eli not to tell anyone that Jesus had healed him. Eli tried to do as Jesus asked, but he just had to tell everyone he met the wonderful news. And Jesus' fame spread even further.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Great Physician

The Great Physician
Sunday, February 5, 2012
Mark 1:29-39
Prop: Adhesive Bandage (optional)

Good morning, everyone!  How are you all feeling today?  Are you feeling healthy and well?  If you have ever been sick, raise your hand.  Maybe you had a cold, or an ear infection, or maybe you fell down and scraped your knee.  If you scraped your knee, someone probably washed it off for you, put some cream on it then covered it with a bandage, like this one (show bandage).

Sometimes when people don't feel well, the problem can be solved at home--maybe with a bandage or extra sleep and chicken soup.  Other times we feel sick enough to need a doctor's help to get better, so we go visit the doctor's office, or maybe even the hospital.  We are blessed to have people and medicines to care for us when we are sick.

One of the first places Jesus visited when he started his work teaching and preaching was a town named Capernaum.  While he was there, he and his brand, new disciples stopped by Simon and Andrew's house.  (Simon and Andrew were two of Jesus' disciples, and they were brothers.)  When Jesus and his friends entered the house, they were told that Simon's mother-in-law didn't feel well.  She had a fever and was so sick, she had gone to bed.  Jesus went in to see the sick woman.  He held her hand, and helped her to sit up.  All at once, her fever was gone.  She felt much better!  In fact, she felt so well that she got up and fixed Jesus and the disciples something to eat.

Word soon spread through the town that Jesus could heal people.  He had healed Simon's mother-in-law!  "It's a miracle!" people said.  By the time the sun went down that same day, the townspeople brought everyone who was sick to Jesus so that he could heal them, too.  Jesus cured people of all different kinds of diseases.

People knew that Jesus was no ordinary person.  He was someone special, sent by God to lead the people.  One reason they knew this was because of the work he did healing the sick.

Today the Church continues Jesus' important work of healing the sick by providing medical care to people in places where there would otherwise be none.  It is important for people to know that God cares for them and wants them to be well.

Let's Pray:

Kind and Caring God, we thank-you for sending Jesus into the world to show us that you care about us in every way.  Help us to care for each other and for those who need extra help to be healthy.  In Jesus' name, Amen.