Leaning Into Tomorrow

We are talking about the effects of the quarantine in our lives and how relying on technology has impacted has changed ministry. This discussion also addresses how we will live into the future given these experiences. This particular podcast does not specifically address youth and young adult ministries, although it does affect these ministry areas.

We have been forced into using technology in new and exciting ways, but we miss gathering face to face. How will this change our future in ministry? While we may not have all the answers, offer some interesting questions that churches should be asking themselves.

  • How have we changed our definition of “community”?
  • Who have we reached while social distancing?
  • How can we make the worship experience more engaging?
  • How can we get more people involved in the worship experience? (beyond the pastor and musicians)
  • What do we want to continue after the quarantine?
  • What risks have we taken?
  • What successes have we encountered?
  • What improvements do we still need to make?

Ultimately, we have all been changed because of this quarantine. “Going back” is not an option for the church. We must figure out how we will lean into tomorrow taking all that we have learned with us as we serve our communities and engage others in our worship and discipleship experiences.

Everything Happens for a reason, or does it?

Judas was the one who betrayed Jesus to the Jewish leaders. He had a key role in the story of the arrest and eventual crucifixion of Christ. Was Judas a pawn in this event? Was it free will or predestination? What if he had made a different choice? We dive into these questions and more in this podcast.

Scripture Readings: John 13:21-30 and 17:6-19 (focus v12)

Discussion Questions:

  • Do you think everything happens for a reason? What situation could arise where this idea may be damaging to a person?
  • How do we answer that same question from the framework of our faith?
  • In the gospels, there is some suggestion that Judas was “used” in order to accomplish a greater purpose. What is your reaction to that?
  • Do you think God uses people to accomplish certain purposes?
  • How do we understand the relationship between free will and God’s will?
  • Can you think of other stories in the Bible in which it seems that people do/don’t have free will?
  • How does this help/change your perspective on your own life?
  • Or in your life decisions?

Podcast:

Ash Wednesday: Confession, Shame and Repentance

Today is a holiday in the church. One that not every Christian, especially protestants, observe. It may be one that seems a bit different, even a little odd. And even if we understand it, we may not know the history. This blog and podcast should help you as you reflect today, preparing for the Lenten season.

Scripture Reading: Matthew 6:1-21

Teaching Points:

  • History of Ash Wednesday
    • The liturgical use of ashes originated in the Old Testament times.  Ashes symbolized mourning, mortality, and penance.  For instance, in the Book of Esther, Mordecai put on sackcloth and ashes when he heard of the decree of King Ahasuerus (or Xerxes, 485-464 BCE) of Persia to kill all of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire (Esther 4:1).  Job repented in sackcloth and ashes (Job 42:6).  Prophesying the Babylonian captivity of Jerusalem, Daniel wrote, “I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” (Daniel 9:3).  These Old Testament examples evidence both a recognized practice of using ashes and a common understanding of their symbolism.
    • The early Church continued the usage of ashes for the same symbolic reasons.  Tertullian (c. 160-220) prescribed that the penitent must “live without joy in the roughness of sackcloth and the squalor of ashes.”  Eusebius (260-340), the famous early Church historian, recounted in his The History of the Church how an apostate named Natalis came to Pope Zephyrinus clothed in sackcloth and ashes begging forgiveness.  Also during this time, for those who were required to do public penance, the priest sprinkled ashes on the head of the person leaving confession.
    • In the Middle Ages (at least by the time of the eighth century), those who were about to die were laid on the ground on top of sackcloth sprinkled with ashes.  The priest would bless the dying person with holy water, saying, “Remember that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.”  After the sprinkling, the priest asked, “Art thou content with sackcloth and ashes in testimony of thy penance before the Lord in the day of judgment?”  To which the dying person replied, “I am content.”  In all of these examples, the symbolism of mourning, mortality, and penance is clear.
    • Eventually, the use of ashes was adapted to mark the beginning of Lent.  The ritual for the “Day of Ashes” is found in the earliest editions of the Gregorian Sacramentary which dates at least to the 8th century.  Since the Middle Ages, the Church has used ashes to mark the beginning of the penitential season of Lent, when we remember our mortality and mourn for our sins.
  • Traditionally, the palm branches from Palm Sunday of the previous year are used to create the ashes.  This is intended to suggest that even the jubilant crowds on Palm Sunday were ultimately at least partly complicit in Jesus’ death. While the literal truth of that is questionable, the fact remains that even the most faithful Christian still sins and falls short.

Scripture Reading: Matthew 6:1-21

‘Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. ‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. ‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

 ‘Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven,

   hallowed be your name.

   Your kingdom come.

   Your will be done,

     on earth as it is in heaven.

   Give us this day our daily bread.

   And forgive us our debts,

     as we also have forgiven our debtors.

   And do not bring us to the time of trial,

     but rescue us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Discussion Questions:

  • When you attend an Ash Wednesday service (or when you have in the past), what is the tone or mood of the service? What are some memorable moments in the Ash Wednesday liturgy?
  • Mourning, mortality and penance are not exactly concepts we discuss every day.
    • What do we make of this idea of mourning for our sins?
    • Is there value in remembering our own mortality from time to time?
    • What is the purpose of penance? Is that a helpful concept for us?
  • Many folks eliminate a food or habit during Lent. Others try to adopt a spiritual practice (or discipline) during that time. What is the purpose of that exercise? Why might we choose to make such a change during Lent?
  • In the Catholic tradition, confession is offered to a priest. In the book of James, it is suggested that we should confess our sins to one another. Many churches have a moment of confession in their service, and it is a part of the United Methodist communion liturgy. What is the purpose of confession, and does it help anything?
  • We generally think of shame as being a negative thing, but the idea of shame is sometimes associated with Ash Wednesday. Is that helpful? Is there a better way of naming it?
  • What is repentance? How does it relate to all these other things (confession, shame, penance, etc)?
  • How might this passage from Matthew help to orient us for the season of Lent?

Resources: “Heidegger and a Hippo” https://www.amazon.com/Heidegger-Hippo-Through-Those-Pearly/dp/0143118250/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?keywords=hitiger+and+a+hippo+walk+into+the+perly+gates&qid=1582732064&sr=8-1-fkmr0

Matthew: A Gospel for the Jewish Community

This gospel is the first in the new testament but is actually written a generation after Mark. Remember, these stories were not written down in journals while the disciples were with Jesus. The stories were shared verbally for a couple of generations before they were actually written. Take a listen to this podcast to find out some more interesting truths about this book of the Bible.

Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:1-20, Matthew 11:7-19, Matthew 13

Teaching Points:

  • The gospel of Matthew was written in a formal, polished Greek that would have been used in synagogues at the time Matthew was writing. This helps us understand his identity and his audience.
  • Matthew probably dates from 80-90CE. A few scholars suggest as early as 70CE and a few as late as 110CE.
  • As with Mark, the author of Matthew is unknown and the name was likely assigned for symbolic reasons. The author of Matthew may have been someone named Matthew (we don’t know), but it was almost certainly not the apostle of the same name. (It would have been the wrong time frame, just for starters.)
  • In our last podcast, we shared that Mark was a source for both Matthew and Luke. This is affirmed by the fact that about 91% of Mark’s content shows up in Matthew (600 of 661 verses). [Note: There is probably a tendency amongst literal readers of scripture to use this similarity as an argument for both gospel authors having been present and rendered Jesus’ words verbatim. We may want to decide if we want to address that or not.]
  • It might be helpful to suggest the idea that gospel writers were more compilers and editors (storytellers, in a sense) than they were creators of original material. This makes sense when we consider the time frame and that stories had been being passed down for some time. Matthew draws on at least three sources: Mark, material that is common to Luke (“Q”), and material unique to his community and tradition.
  • The Christian community to which Matthew belonged was still part of the larger Jewish community, but to some degree, they were beginning to be cut off from their Jewish roots. Recall that the Jesus movement began as a movement WITHIN Judaism and only later became a distinct religion. There was undoubtedly conflict between Matthew’s community and other Jewish communities as they began to diverge in their understanding of Jesus.
  • The gospel of Matthew has its own unique attributes: for example, it identifies Jesus as the “new Moses” (liberator) by telling the story of his family’s flight to Egypt (unique to this gospel). It doesn’t bother to explain Jewish traditions, since its audience was Jewish themselves. It includes a birth narrative that expresses a particular view of Jesus’ kingship.

Discussion Questions:

  • Plagiarism is a HUGE issue in schools these days. What is the difference between just copying someone else’s story and using it as a source to tell your own story? What are some examples in our world? Song remix, updated movie, etc.
  • How do we understand the fact that Matthew was using the Gospel of Mark as source material? Is that surprising? Unsettling?
  • One source calls Matthew a “creative reinterpretation” of Mark’s gospel. What do you think about that?
  • Matthew stresses the divinity of Jesus, often by making small changes to the narrative. Why do we suppose this was important to
  • Matthew at the time he was writing? Can we identify how this is a little different than Mark? Is it ok that one gospel writer might stress Jesus’ divinity a little more while another might focus more on his humanity? How might this be helpful for us as readers of scripture?
  • Matthew often uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven” (29 times!) because of a Jewish tradition of not speaking (or writing) the name of God. How might this change our understanding of passages that appear to be referring to heaven but actually refer to the “kingdom of God”? [See, for example, the passages in Matthew 11 and 13.]

Podcast:

When There Aren’t Any Words

Talking to young people about life and legends and leaving a legacy.

Yesterday the world lost a legend. Kobe Bryant was a legend on the basketball court as well as in his daily life. We are shocked. I was on the phone with my son when he said I think Kobe died in a helicopter accident. I said, “Are you sure? It’s probably a hoax.” But unfortunately, a quick Google search confirmed the tragedy. Shocked.

I’m sure we are all asking the questions. Why? Why would God take him when he was so young? Take his daughter? Take the other parents and children in the helicopter as well? Good people gone so quickly. It doesn’t seem fair. So what do you say?

The honest answer…I…don’t…know. There is just no answer. It’s a question we ask every time we lose someone. And, we are not God. However, we know that God is good, and that there is more to our lives than this world. We must find the positive in everything that happens. When we are focused on finding good, we begin to heal. Somehow we need to cling to the idea that our lives have a purpose. We must celebrate the lives of those around us, taking advantage of every moment and being present with the people we care about the most.

When talking about losing a legend, like Kobe, it’s helpful to talk about legacy with young people. What is the legacy that Kobe will leave behind? What are his accomplishments that the world will always remember? What kind of things can we do on a regular basis in our own lives that help us to leave our own legacy? When we experience loss, it is often a time for us to readjust our own priorities.

No matter if you live or work with young people, make sure you are having the conversation. It is through discourse that we are able to process our emotions. Give teens and young adults the opportunity to express what they are feeling. Allow them safe places to ask the hard questions. And be OK with not having all the answers. Sometimes we just don’t understand, and don’t have the words to make it better.

Praying for Bryant family and for the families of those who were with him.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not depend on your own understanding,” ~Proverbs 3:5

The Light That Keeps On Coming

In our last week of Advent, we take a look at some verses from minor prophets as well as Mary’s song in Luke. We are using a traditional picture of the nativity for our blog. This may also be a good opportunity to talk about how often times we misrepresent Jesus’ birth with people who look like us, with kings present or even snow! But also talk about how when we relate to Christ’s birth personally, we can see the importance of the story in that He came to free us all of our sin. Enjoy the podcast and discussion. Have a very Merry Christmas!

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 7:10-16 (Advent lectionary) and (perhaps) Amos 5, Micah 6 *Also Luke 1:46-55*

Teaching Points:

  • We are looking at some of the minor prophets this week. (Minor= smaller books).
  • The prophets were prophesying during times of crisis. The podcast goes into more detail about these crisis’s. It is important to help students understand the place where the prophets were when they were writing.
  • The message being sent here is, “God wants His people to create a just society.”
  • Social justice is helping change systems of power to give voice to the voiceless
  • If you have the time, or would like to bring in some New Testament, look at Mary’s Song in Luke.

Discussion Questions:

  • What, really, is the point of telling this Advent story again and again each year? Are we really expecting anything new and different, or is it just a nice story to tell?
  • Mary’s song shares her words of joy about God. Why is she singing praises to God? (Help students see that God first appears to this poor, unmarried girl. Not to a rich powerful man.) What does this say about our God? How does this compare to how our community, or the world views God? Where do you go to find God?
  • Some of the prophetic voices speak powerfully of the transgressions of the people that must be overcome in order that a new light might come into the world. What does this mean in our own time? Are we, perhaps, too “tame” in our expectations and in our willingness to use our own prophetic voices during this season of Advent?
  • What are YOU hoping for? What light would YOU like to see come into the world? What social justice issue are you passionate about? Where could you bring a voice to the voiceless?

Podcast:

Teenager of the Year

Last week, Time Magazine, selected Greta Thunberg the Swedish teen climate activist as their Person of the Year. Since that announcement, people have been divided (no shocker for our country!) and criticizing the magazine’s decision. I find the banter and debate interesting. I wonder if it has to do with the political divisive topic or is it the fact that she is a teenager?

Let’s take politics out of this for a minute. Whether you agree with the choice, or think she is deserving or not, Greta is the third single female named with this honor. (Other women would be included in “groups” or in a group with men.) So, as far back as 1927, every year but three, men have been named. And now we have a female, and not just any female, but a teenager. This is significant because they have never given a teen the title.

If you live or work with young people, take a few minutes to talk about the impact of Greta’s work. Again, you may not agree with her stance or even that she is deserving, but think about the fact that she is a teenager. We all know, and remember when we were that age, that most teens believe the world resolves around them. So, there is a fine line to walk when engaging in this conversation, but young people need to feel empowered to change their world. Whatever the topic, whatever their passion, they need to know the love and support of the adults in their lives to believe they can do it.

In my vocation, I typically work with “churched” teens and young adults. So, I tend to encourage them to change the way the world sees us as Christians. Break the mold, stand up for what you believe in and let other see what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Or stand up for someone who doesn’t have a voice.

Young people today have an audience. The world does listen. Time Magazine even listens to them! Unlike the teens and young adults who were protesting the Vietnam War, today they have more resources, more money and more technology. They can change their world. Set them free to do just that.

Exile, the Prophetic Witness & Message of Peace

This is the second week of our Advent discussion. We are taking a look at the Exile, and how we can relate to the feeling of being exiled in different circumstances today. We will continue the Advent lectionary in Isaiah and look at his message of peace and the hopeful future he envisioned. Be sure to listen to the podcast to hear some thoughts and ways we draw the connection between scripture and our world today.

Teaching Points:

We probably cannot overstate the significance of the Exile as the matrix in which almost all of the entirety of the Hebrew Scriptures are situated. It would have been the dominant experience on the minds and hearts of both writers and hearers of the vast majority of the Old Testament.

Scripture Reference:

2 Kings 17:5-23, 2 Kings 25 and Isaiah 11:1-10 (Advent Lectionary)

  • The passages from 2 Kings describe the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 17) and the Southern Kingdom of Judah (2 Kings 25). It is helpful for readers to understand that Jerusalem was in the Southern Kingdom and was understood (by the Judeans, at least) to be the best or “most authentic” place in which one could worship the God of Israel. Thus, there was always some tension between the two kingdoms and a sense in which Judeans look down on Israel as being “less than” in their worship. This influences the tone in which the various kings are presented and the justification for Israel’s having been conquered some 125 years earlier.

Discussion Questions:

  • Certainly one of the themes that emerges as we read about the Exile is the truth that, like so many of our histories today, stories are often written by the “victor” or dominant party and never given unbiased renderings of past events. Where do we see that in our own time? Who gets to write our contemporary histories? Who decides the authors of how history is recorded today? How can this impact perception for future generations?
  • Another important recognition when we talk about Exile is that we know the end of the story, but they did NOT. We have to be careful when we only read or focus on those passages that speak very hopefully about a future to come; we must also remember that there was tremendous despair and hopelessness that came in the midst of the experience of Exile. Where do we experience this in our own lives? Are there times that we feel we are in the “wilderness,” and we really don’t know if things are going to turn out “ok” or not? (The podcast has some good discussion around examples in teens/young adults’ lives, please take a listen.)
  • [Side note: we are not taking much time to address the considerable passages of lament and disappointment found in the Psalms and in others of the prophetic books. They may warrant some mention and an acknowledgement that there is tremendous emotional depth and breadth as the people struggle through their reality and cry out to God for understanding and relief. This begs a potential question about whether we are good, in our own time and place, at acknowledging sadness, feelings of hopelessness and our human need to lament at some times. Do we just try to gloss over the really difficult realities that some folks are facing?]
  • What image does Isaiah use in verse 1 to symbolize rebirth? Why do you think he uses this particular item? (Make sure you discuss the how a tree changes with each season, and how to keep a tree healthy, etc.)
  • Who is the “He” referenced in verses 2-4? (An heir of David) How does Isaiah describe this person?
  • What is the new natural order that will take effect in verses 6-8?
  • The lectionary reading for the Second Sunday of Advent once again presents a beautiful vision for a hopeful future in which parties that we might expect be antagonist toward each other are able to peacefully live together. Where might we need such a vision in our own lives? What is the difference between embracing God’s vision for a hopeful future and just pretending that everything is fine?
  • This week for Advent our focus is on love. How do these verses in Isaiah bring a message of love to us today? Where do you see love in your life? In the world today? How can you bring more love to those around you?

Podcast

Jacob and His Many Sons

Intro

This is a continuation of our study of the Patriarchs. Students may find the twists and turns of Jacob’s story quite interesting. There is a lot to cover, so it may be helpful to share the most of Jacob’s story with students and pick important verses to read together.

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Students will understand the twelve tribes of Israel
  • Students will explore the role of women
  • Students will think about the role God plays as we wrestle with our conflicts.

Scripture: Genesis 32:22-32 and Genesis 37:1-11

Teaching Points:

  • It is through Jacob that the legendary twelve tribes of Israel are born, albeit by four different women. We can acknowledge that these tribes may well have existed and interacted but their origin story is probably unknown.
  • We might make the observation that this entire section of podcast focuses on the patriarchs (men) through whom God’s blessing was passed down. It is important to observe the role that women play (or don’t play) through this narrative and consider how women may struggle to find themselves in this unfolding story of the Jewish/Christian tradition.
  • If you have logical thinkers, you may want to draw a family tree to help them see the connection through each generation from Abraham through Jacob.

Discussion Questions:

  • Opening Question: What is something in your life that you have had to wrestle with? A decision you had to make or a relationship where there was conflict?
  • There is a lot of deception in Jacob’s story. What do you make of the fact that God’s blessing/covenant is passed down through a man who lies, cheats, schemes and takes unfair advantage of situations?
  • What role did the women play in the narratives? How can we read these stories today so that women can see their importance in God’s story and blessings?
  • In Genesis 32, we read about Jacob wrestling with an angel, perhaps a representative of God. This happens while he is in conflict with his brother. Can you relate to this idea of wrestling with God?
  • In Genesis 37, we begin to learn about Joseph. Verse 3 suggests that the practice of having a favorite son has continued into the next generation, and the stories that follow seem to demonstrate that Joseph has a big ego. What can you take from this? How does it speak to us today that God continued to use flawed Biblical characters?
  • What can we learn about God and about humans in these chapters?
  • Joseph’s story continues through Chapters 38-50. Encourage students to continue to explore the rest of the story using the same interpretive tools we have been using.

Keep It Simple

Churches often ask me, “We want to reach young(er) people.” In fact, there are very few churches that I have come across that do not have this goal in mind. My first response is, please do not think that reaching younger people means they will be in attendance on Sunday morning. We have to start first with redefining “reach.” If you want to “reach” generation z (teens) or millennials (young adults), you need to start with building relationships with them. They won’t just come to church. If they want to listen to a sermon, they can do it via a podcast. But more times then not, they have never gone to a worship service, so they won’t just show up. And if they do, please do NOT immediately bombard them with places where you need volunteers. Get to know their name, find out what they are passionate about, take them out to lunch. Develop a friendship first. Then find out what they are seeking in a church. You may find that the one thing your church can offer is friendship. Start there. Then see where the spirit leads. It’s just that simple.