Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Lord Is My Shepherd

Photo: http://ardentcries.com/?p=1874

The Lord Is My Shepherd
Easter 4
Psalm 23

When I was a child, adults often asked me, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  I'll bet you get that a lot, too, right?  My answer was not always the same.  At one time I thought I wanted to be a teacher.  Then a marine biologist, and finally a minister (adapt intro. to your own experience, of course).  One job I never, ever considered was that of a shepherd.*

Shepherding is one of the oldest occupations in the world.  Shepherds have been around for over 6,000 years!  Shepherds are mentioned quite a bit in the Bible.  They were sometimes older people who couldn't help with heavy work around the farm any more, sometimes hired hands and sometimes young boys or girls.  Shepherds took care of herds of sheep. 

Sheep eat, or graze, on grass and other plants that grow wild in fields, pastures or meadows.  One of the shepherd's most important jobs was leading the sheep to food--to green pastures or meadows.  The shepherds also needed to make sure there were streams or pools with clean water for their sheep to drink.  If a sheep wandered away from the flock, the shepherd had to go find it and bring it back.  Shepherds carried a long stick with a hook on the end, called a crook.  In the Middle East, where the Bible stories took place, there were some rocky, hilly areas.  If a sheep fell down between the rocks and the shepherd couldn't reach it, the shepherd would use the crook to help rescue the sheep and lift it to safety.  Shepherds also protected the sheep from harm, such as wolves and thieves.

There is a poem in the Bible called the 23rd Psalm.  The 23rd Psalm is a very popular, much-loved piece of Scripture.  Many believe the Psalm was written by a king named David, who was himself a shepherd when he was a boy.  In the 23rd Psalm, David describes God as a shepherd who takes care of all of his needs--who is with him through thick and thin--in good times and bad.  God, the Shepherd, protects David and keeps him safe.  I believe David writes for all of us.  We are all members of God's flock.  We can all agree with David that God is a good shepherd who cares for and protects us.

I'd like to close our time by reciting the 23rd Psalm together.  I will read a line, and then all of you, the whole congregation, repeat the line after me, OK?  This is from Eugene Peterson's modern translation of the Bible, called The Message**.  Listen for some of the shepherding words and phrases that we learned this morning as we recite together.

A David Psalm
1-3 God, my shepherd! I don't need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

4 Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I'm not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd's crook
makes me feel secure.

5 You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.

6 Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I'm back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.



*I usually choose to write children's sermons/stories in a way that do not engage the children in conversation.  This is to avoid the uncomfortable and potentially harmful situation wherein a child answers a question or offers a comment in an earnest and sincere way, and the congregation's response is laughter.  Granted, those laughing are usually touched by the child's comment and in no way intend for their response to be considered negative or derogatory, but the child may feel laughed at and embarrassed.  If it is your congregation's tradition to engage in banter with the children, an easy opening to this story would be to ask them what they want to be when they grow up, then after they have answered, ask, "Does anyone want to be a shepherd?" and go on from there.

**I realize that to many congregations, this unfamiliar translation of a beloved Psalm will seem sacrilegious.  Of course any version may be used at this point in the story.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Road to Emmaus

The Road to Emmaus 
Easter 3 - Sunday, April 22, 2012
Luke 24: 13-35
Prop: Photos of Michelle Obama

(Begin by showing portrait of Michelle Obama.)
You might recognize the woman in this photo.  It is Michelle Obama, the First Lady, or wife of the President of the United States.  Mrs. Obama was on a talk show called Late Night with David Letterman recently.  On the show, she shared a story about a recent shopping trip she took to her local Target store.  She had her hair up in a pony tail, covered by a baseball cap and she wore sunglasses so that she could shop in peace and not cause a rucous with people getting all excited because the First Lady was in the store.  Here's a picture of her at Target, trying to be unrecognized:

While Mrs. Obama was shopping in the detergent aisle, a short woman approached her and said, "Excuse me, may I bother you for just a moment?"  Mrs. Obama thought, "Uh-oh, this is it.  She knows who I am and I'll have to go home."  The woman then said to Mrs. Obama, "Would you mind reaching up and grabbing that bottle of detergent off the top shelf for me?"  The woman had just asked the First Lady of the United States of America to hand her a bottle of detergent, and she had no idea.  She didn't recognize her.  Imagine how shocked that woman was if she was watching the interview on David Letterman and recognized herself in Mrs. Obama's story!  She probably called all of her friends to share the exciting news with them.  She had met the First Lady!

On the first Easter Sunday, two of Jesus' followers were walking from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus.  It was a long, 7 mile walk--like walking from Rehoboth to the Lewes Library.  The couple was talking about all the things that had happened during the past week with Jesus--his joyous entry into Jerusalem while the crowd shouted, "Hosanna!," the Last Supper with his disciples and friends, his arrest and trial, his death on a cross, and then the amazing story some of the women had shared that morning about finding the tomb empty.  Christ had risen?  This last bit was hard to believe.

As they walked along, Jesus himself came up and walked near them, but his two friends didn't recognize him.  Jesus asked, "What are you two discussing with each other?"  They stopped walking and stood still, looking sad.  One of the two, Cleopas, answered Jesus, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know what has happened there this past few days?"  Jesus pretended that he had no idea and said, "What things?"

Then Cleopas told him how Jesus of Nazareth, a mighty prophet, had suffered and died.  Cleopas said, "But we had hoped that Jesus was the One sent by God to save Israel."  And then he told Jesus the strangest news of all--that some of the women in their circle of friends had gone to the tomb early that morning, only to find the tomb empty.  A vision of angels told the women that Jesus was alive.

Then Jesus responded to Cleopas' words, saying, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!"  Then Jesus explained the Scriptures to the couple, beginning with Moses and the prophets.  He wanted them to understand that what had happened to Jesus was all part of God's plan all along; that everything was going to be OK--it was all good.

They came to Emmaus, and the two invited the stranger to stay with them for the night, as it was getting late.  Jesus agreed.

At dinner, Jesus held up the bread, just like he did at the Last Supper.  He said a blessing, broke the bread in pieces and gave it to his travel companions.  In that  moment, the moment of communion, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.  And Jesus vanished.

Can you imagine how astonished the two travelers must have been?  They had spent the whole afternoon with Jesus and didn't even know it!  They were too excited to stay in Emmaus that night.  They walked--maybe even ran--the seven miles back to Jerusalem  They found the disciples and told them all that had happened.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Let's Pray:  Dear God, we thank-you for the Good News.  Christ is risen!  Help us to recognize the Risen Christ in our world today, and to follow him as faithful disciples.  Amen.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Doubting Thomas

Doubting ThomasEaster 2
Scripture: John 20:19-31
Prop: Prepare 3 statements about yourself--two true and one false

We're going to start our time together this morning with a game. It's called "I Doubt It." I am going to tell you three things about myself. Two of the things I tell you will be true, and one will be false. I will tell you all three things first, then I'll ask which one you think is false. When I get to the statement that you believe is false, or untrue, then you say, "I doubt it!" OK? Here are the three things:

1. I used to work at Disneyland.
2. My favorite color is red.
3. I have seven brothers and sisters.

Now, how many of you think I used to work at Disneyland, raise your hand?  If you think I have never worked at Disneyland, say, "I doubt it."

Do you think my favorite color is red?  If so, raise your had.  If you think my favorite color is anything but red, say, "I doubt it."

And finally, if you think I have seven brothers and sisters, raise your hand.  If you don't believe that I have seven brothers and sisters, say, "I doubt it."  If you said "I doubt it" to seven brothers and sisters, you are correct!

One of Jesus' disciples became famous for doubting something that was actually true.  His name was Thomas, and this is what happened to earn him the nickname, "Doubting Thomas."

It was Sunday night, three day after Jesus had died on the cross.  Ten of the twelve disciples were gathered together--hiding, really--with the doors to the house locked tight.  They were afraid.  They were afraid that because they were Jesus' friends, the people who killed Jesus would come after them next.  All of a sudden and out of nowhere, Jesus stood with them in the room.  He said, "Peace be with you."  He showed them the wounds he had suffered in his hands and side.  And then all of the disciples were filled with joy!  The friend they saw die was alive!  What a miracle!!  Jesus told them again, "Peace be with you."  And then he told them he was sending them out into the world, just as God had sent him.  But they weren't going alone.  He gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit to give them strength for the journey and power to carry on Jesus' ministry.  And then Jesus left, just as quickly as he came.

Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus visited.  When he returned to the house, the disciples let him in and told him what had happened.  They said, "We have seen the Lord!"  But Thomas had trouble believing such an amazing, unbelievable thing!  Thomas doubted what his friends told him.  He said, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."

A week went by.  The disciples were gathered together in the house again.  This time Thomas was with them, too.  Again, Jesus came, stood among them and said, "Peace be with you."  Jesus offered to let Thomas touch the wounds in his hands and side, but Thomas believed immediately.  He worshiped Jesus by saying, "My Lord and my God!" even without touching Jesus' scars.  This time, he had no doubt.

Jesus said, "Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

Who do you think Jesus was talking about?  Who is it that believe Jesus lives, even though they have not seen him face-to-face?  Us!  That's right.  Jesus was talking about us and all Christians who believe in and serve him.  And to us Jesus also says, "Peace be with you."

Let's pray.  Good and gracious God, Thank-you for blessing us with faith in Jesus, and with your peace.  Amen.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Christ is Risen!

Christ is Risen!

Christ is Risen, Indeed!!

Go with God, and the Peace of Christ be with you.
Happy Easter!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Christ is Risen!

Christ is Risen!
Easter, 2012
Scripture: Mark 16: 1-8
Prop: A Daffodil (or photo)

Good morning, boys and girls!  Happy Easter!  There is an old tradition in the Church that on Easter, instead of saying, "Hello," Christians greet each other by saying, "Christ is Risen!"  And then the person answering back says, "He is risen, indeed!"  Let's try that, OK?  Christ is risen!  (Children answer, "He is risen, indeed!"  Try again if kids were slow to pick up their cue.)

I want to share a resurrection story with you this morning.

Once, there was a woman who lived in a cute, little house on the edge of town.  Let's call her Jane.  Jane took good care of her home, and her happiest hours were spent working in her garden.  Jane grew beautiful flowers and delicious vegetables like tomatoes and green peppers every summer.  There was a pretty good-sized patch of ground next to the garage where she planted dozens of daffodil bulbs.  Daffodils are wonderful to plant because the bulbs multiply under ground on their own, and each year more and more flowers come up and bloom.  Here, I have a daffodil to show you.  (Show flower or photo.)  See how the flower is shaped like a trumpet?  Jane's daffodil bed was a spectacular display of cheerful, yellow trumpets every spring.

IN the summer, when it gets really hot, daffodil plants die down and nothing shows above ground until the next spring, when the leaves poke through the ground once again.

Like I said, Jane loved her home, but the time came when she needed to move to a new town.  She found another house with space for a garden that she really liked.  She sold her house to a young family and moved to her new home.

The Ruiz family moved into the house in July.  School was out, and the children loved playing in the yard.  Mr. Ruiz owned a small fishing boat, and he needed a place to park it.  He saw what looked like a barren patch of ground next to the garage.  "Perfect!" he thought.  "I can store my boat and trailer there when I'm not fishing."

So, Mr. Ruiz had a parking pad built in that spot.  It was made out of black asphalt--like a street.  The boat and trailer fit just right and all was well.

Summer ended.  School started.  The Ruiz family enjoyed Thanksgiving and Christmas in their new home.  Then one day, right around Valentine's Day, Mrs. Ruiz went to the garage for something and glanced over at the boat.  The asphalt parking pad looked odd.  It didn't seem quite as flat as it did when it was first built.  She shrugged and then forgot about it.

About a week later, Eddie Ruiz came into the kitchen from playing in the yard, shouting, "Mom!  Dad!  Come see!"

The whole family followed Eddie outside.  He took them to the parking pad.  He pointed under the boat trailer and said, "Look!"  The whole square of asphalt was lumpy and breaking apart into pieces.  In several places, a little bit of green leaf was peeking out from below the heavy black asphalt.  Without knowing it, Mr. Ruiz had paved over Jane's daffodil bed, and guess what...the daffodils won!  The life in those bulbs was too strong and powerful to remain buried, even under asphalt.

Easter celebrates New Life!  Jesus was dead and buried, but the love of God is stronger and more powerful than even death.  God brought Jesus back to life to live with God forever.  This is what we call resurrection.  This is Easter.  Christ is risen!  (He is risen, indeed!)

Let's Pray:  All-loving and all-powerful God, we thank you for life and for new life in Christ.  Thank-you for making us Easter People.  Amen.