Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Palm Sunday

Triumphal Entry
 Palm Sunday
April 1, 2012
Mark 11:1-11
Props: Palms for the children

Good morning!

I am going to need everyone's help in telling the story this morning.  Do you have the palm frond you were given when you entered the sanctuary this morning?  Who doesn't have one to hold?  (Pass out palms as needed.)  Now, I'm going to ask you to please keep the palms in your laps until I get to the part in the story where the crowd greets Jesus, waving palm branches.  Then you wave your palms in the air, too.  OK?  Great.

Passover is a very important holiday in the Jewish faith.  It remembers a time when the Jews escaped from slavery in Egypt.  Jews all over the world celebrate Passover, but the most special place in the world to be during Passover is in the city of Jerusalem.  Even when Jesus was teaching and preaching, Jerusalem was extra crowded at Passover.

Jesus, too, wanted to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem with his disciples.  They were all walking from Jericho to Jerusalem.  As they got closer to the city, Jesus sent two of the disciples to borrow a colt for him to ride.  The disciples threw their coats on the back of the colt, and Jesus rode the rest of the way, surrounded by his very best friends in the world.  Jerusalem is a walled city, with several gates allowing people to come and go.  As Jesus and his parade of disciples came near one of the gates, some of the other people coming to Jerusalem recognized them.  They threw their coats on the ground to make a smooth path for Jesus.  They spread leafy branches on the road, too, and waved palm branches in the air to welcome Jesus.  (Encourage the children to wave their palms.)  The crowd greeted Jesus as if he were a king!  They even cheered him, shouting,


Let's shout that together.  Hosanna!  Hosanna! 

Good!  The crowd also shouted, Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!

Let's shout that, too.  Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna!

Now the whole congregation together:  Hosanna!  Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna!

Jesus entered into the city of Jerusalem with the crowd cheering his arrival.  It was a thrilling day!  A few days later, he shared the Passover meal with his disciples.  But then later that night, he was arrested, and the next day he was brought to trial.  The judge, Caesar, asked the crowd what he should do with their teacher, Jesus.  And the same crowd that cheered him a few days before shouted again, only this time their words were not cheerful.  They were ugly and mean.  Crucify him!, they shouted.  Crucify him!

The next day was a Friday, and on that day Jesus was put to death.  This was a sad, sad day.  But this day, this Friday, was not the end of the story!  Three days later Sunday came, and Easter, and resurrection, New Life and hope.  Hope for the world.  Hope for us all.  We'll talk about all that next week! 

Let's pray.  Dear God, We thank-you for great festivals which help us remember our past as people of faith.  Help us to live as faithful people each and every day.  Amen.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

In Christ's Service

In Christ's Service
Sunday, March 25
Lent 5
John 12:26
Props: Map of Cameroon or a globe
            A Papaya (opt.)

This week's sermon has at its heart a story drawn from the One Great Hour of Sharing materials.  Many churches will be taking up the OGHS offering on Palm Sunday, April 1.  If your church does not participate in OGHS, adapt the sermon using an example from your own church's mission work.

Cameroon is a country in Western Africa.  Here it is on a map.  (Show map or globe.)

Stephanie is a young girl who lives in Cameroon with her father and her three younger siblings--brothers and sisters.  Stephanie dreams of becoming a journalist when she grows up.  One day, however, it looked like she would never achieve her dream.  In Cameroon, parents have to pay money to send their children to school.  On this one, sad day, Stephanie was sent home from school because her father could not afford to pay her school fees.

Stephanie's father, Pierre, is a hard-working farmer.  He grows papayas, like this one.  (Show papaya, if you have one.)  Three times over the last ten years, Pierre and his children were kicked out of the farm they were working because a huge farm next door kept growing bigger and bigger.  Three times the big farm bought the land Pierre was renting to farm, and he, Stephanie and her brothers and sisters had to move.  Each time, they spent monty to build up a new papaya farm.  And then, just when the farm was producing well, the big company bought the farm and Pierre had to start all over again.  Finally, Pierre was out of money and he could not even afford to pay Stephanie's school fees.

Pierre wanted to start a new farm far away from the huge company farm next door, but he had no  money.  He didn't know what to do.

Your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing are now helping Stephanie and her family.  One Great Hour of Sharing money was given to Pierre to start up his new farm, and to send Stephanie and her brothers and sisters to school.

One Great Hour of Sharing also supports a fair trade dried fruit project called Fair Fruit.  Pierre sells some of his papayas to Fair Fruit, which adds to his income and helps him care for his family.

Money donated to One Great Hour of Sharing helps dreams come true for families who, like Stephanie's, live in some of the world's poorest places. 

To be a follower of Jesus means to live a life of service to others, especially those who are struggling to survive.  When we help the others, we are helping Jesus' mission and serving God.

Please remember to bring your fish banks with you to church next Sunday for the One Great Hour of Sharing offering.

Let's pray.  Dear God, we thank-you for the chance to help people like Stephanie and her family build a better lives for themselves all over the world.  Help us to be loving servants so that Jesus' mission will reach to all corners of the planet.  Amen.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Bible in One Sentence

The Bible in One Sentence
Sunday, March 18, 2012 - Lent 4
John 3:16
Props: A large Bible, such as the pulpit or a family Bible
           A pew Bible
           A pocket Bible
           A children's Bible
           A laptop or Kindle-type reader, loaded with the Bible

Good morning, boys and girls!  I have something to show you this morning--several things, actually.  This I took from one of the pews in the sanctuary--it's a Bible.  And this I borrowed from the Lectern over there (point to lectern)--it's a Bible, too.  The pew Bible is what we might consider a normal-sized book, and this Bible is huge by comparison.  Now look at this tiny Bible!  (Show pocket Bible.)  When I open to the text, I think you can see why the pulpit version is so huge, and the pocket version is so small.  Look at the size of the print.  See how big these words are, so people reading to the congregation can see it easily and not lose their place.  And the print on the pocket Bible is teeny-tiny so the book is small and can be carried around easily. 

Here's a Bible published especially for children.  It has a lot of pictures in it.  (Flip through and show some pictures.)  With today's technology, you can even read the Bible without turning a page!  (Show electronic form.)  See?  I can read the Bible on this screen.  And if I want to look up a particular story or verse of the Bible, I can put it in the search field, and the part I want to read will come up on the screen immediately.

The Bible was written a long, long time ago by many different people, and not all at once.  It was written by people of faith telling about God and their experiences with God.  Some of the writings are stories, like the stories of Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Moses and the Egyptians, stories about Jesus.  Some of the writings are rules, like the 10 Commandments.  Some of the writings are poetry, like the Psalms, and some are letters.  All of the writings tell us about who God is and what God has done in the world.

All of the stories, poems, lists, rules and letters were compiled into one book by the leaders of the church about 1700 years ago--the book we call the Bible.  The complete Bible has been translated into 450 languages, and sections of the Bible have been translated into over 2,000 languages.  In the King James Version of the Bible, written in English, there are 66 sections, or books, 1,189 chapters, and, can you guess how many words?  (Let children guess.)  There are 783,137 words in the King James Bible!  That's a lot of words to read, right?

With all of those 783,137 words, 1,189 chapters and 66 books of Holy Scripture, the message of the Bible can be summarized in one sentence--25 short words.  This sentence can be found in the Gospel According to John, chapter 3, verse 16, and it reads like this (Look up the verse in one of the Bibles--electronic or print):

   16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His [a]only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."

That's it--the Gospel message in a nutshell.  All of the words and verses and chapters and books of the Bible are there to convey this one message:  "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." 

Eugene Peterson, a pastor who lives in Montana, wrote a modern translation of the Bible that was first published in 1998.  He called it The Message.  He translates John 3:16 this way:

"This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life."

Who is the Son that is mentioned in John 3:16?  It's Jesus.  So, God loved the world so very much, that God gave Jesus to the world.  By believing in Jesus, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.

Of course there are many, many other important lessons we can learn by reading the Bible.  This one sentence, however, is so important that you might even want to memorize it.  Then you can remember what the Bible says about God's love for the world and the gift of God's Son any place, any time.  Let's say it together now.  Repeat after me, please:

"For God so loved the world,
that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him
shall not perish,
but have eternal life."


Friday, March 9, 2012

Rules to Live By

Rules to Live By
Sunday, March 11, 2012 - Lent 3
Exodus 12:1-17
Props: Copies or projection of the 2 photos included herein

Good morning!

Every group, organization or society has rules.

Schools have rules.  No running in the halls.  Now throwing food in the cafeteria.  No cheating.  Raise your hand if you want to ask a question in class.  No leaving during the school day without permission.

There are rules to follow when playing games.  In baseball, only one player is allowed to be up to bat at a time.  When yo hit the ball, you must run to first base first, then second, third and then home, and not the other way around.

When playing Candyland, you have to wait your turn before drawing a card.  And if you draw a red card, say, you move your playing piece to the next red square on the board, and not a yellow or a green square, right?

There are even rules for walking down the street!  Always walk on the sidewalk.  Cross only at a corner.  Stop and look both ways before crossing the street, or only cross the street if you're with a grown-up.  If there is a light at the corner and the signal looks like this (show photo of hand), what do you do?

You stop, that's right.  And when the light turns to this, what do you do?

You look both ways and cross when all the cars have stopped.  Exactly.

We may not always like rules, but rules are there to keep us safe and to help us live together in peace.  Thousands of years ago, God saw that the people of God needed help living in community with respect for each other and for God.  So the Lord gave Moses a set of rules to share with the people.  They were short and simple--The Ten Commandments.  They were rules like:

Worship only God.
Do not swear.
Respect your parents.
Do not lie. 
Do not take anything that doesn't belong to you.
Do not murder.
Do not wish really, really hard that you could have something that your neighbor has.

Like I said, there were only ten of these rules--fewer rules than there are in a game of baseball!  But the people given these ten commandments lived so long ago, that these were new ideas to them, and so following just these ten was a challenge.  Well, years went by, and even though the Ten Commandments became well known and the people tried really hard, they still found it difficult to follow all Ten Commandments all the time.  Let's face it--we find it hard, too. 

When Jesus came along, he tried to simplify the rules for the people.  He said there are two commandments that are the most important--to love God completely and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  But we even fail at following these two rules!  All of us sometimes put our own needs and wants before the needs and wants of others.

Our failure is why Jesus came into the world in the first place.  Jesus came to show us through his own example what it means to live the way God wants us to live.  Jesus always loved and respected God and always put the needs of others before his own.  He lived a perfect, God-centered life.  We try our best to follow Jesus' example, but we aren't perfect all the time.  We still fail sometimes.  Another word for this failure is sin.

Jesus came to show us the way to God.  He also came to save us from our sin.  Jesus died on a cross for us, so that when the time comes, we can live in heaven with Jesus and all of God's people.

It is still good to try our best to follow Jesus' example and live a life that shows love and respect for God and others.  But it is also good to know that when we fail, when we make mistakes, God forgives us.  God still loves us.  We are God's children.  Forever. This is the gift we call grace.

Let's pray:  All-loving and forgiving God, we thank you for rules that keep us safe and living together in peace.  And we thank you for the grace that keeps us in your care always.  Amen.