Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Talents


The Parable of the Talents
Scripture:
Matthew 25:14-28

Quick Summary:
Jesus tells a story of a man trusting his servants with different amounts of talents (bags of gold). To one, he leaves 5, one gets 2, and one get 1. He comes back to find the one with 5 doubled it to 10, the one with 2 doubled it to 4. But the one with 1 buried it, and returned only what he had. The boss was mad that he didn’t even get interest and fired him.

The Point:
God trusts us to take what he has given us and to use it to make the world better.

Questions for Family Time:
1.Tell me the story you heard today.
        a. (see above)
2.  What are some things God has trusted you with?
            a. (this is a personal answer.)
3.How can you use them to make the world better?
        a. (similar answer to above)    


Deeper:

There is definitely a sense in this parable about the physical things God entrusts to us. It is after all followed by the parable in which we are told to feed the hungry, clothe the needy, care for the sick and imprisoned. There is definitely a sense of sharing what God has given us to make the whole world better. This idea is what we call stewardship. It is the idea that all we have his really God’s and we have a responsibility to use if for God’s purposes. We are stewards, managers if you would, of God’s stuff.

But, I think this parable goes beyond calling us to give material goods to God’s causes. I think our talents might actually refuse the giftedness and uniqueness that God has put in each of us. Perhaps it is because talents has changed in language from meaning money to mean abilities and gifts. God doesn’t just hold us to account for our money or material goods. He expects us to use who he made us to be for his kingdom.

This second understanding is what we are going to focus on during Junior Group. Each one of these kids is unique with unique gifts and talents that can use for God’s kingdom. I am going to be inviting them to think about who they are, and what natural “talents” they have and how they might use them to make God’s world better.

I also want to encourage you to reflect on your talents and how you are a steward of them. Also, I want to encourage you to think out of the box. God often views our weaknesses as talents. I think about Nick and one story time when I asked the kids to help him focus because he had ADHD and a young boy excitedly shared he did too, and sat down beside him. Nick was able to use what we often think of as a deficit to help a child experience God’s love.
           
There is a line from the old Spiderman movies that really is at the heart of our lesson this week: with great power comes great responsibility. We may not be able to climb walls or save the world from evil super villains, but God has entrusted with each of us power. And he calls us to use that power for his kingdom.

Personal Reflection:
What are your talents? How do you use them for God’s kingdom?

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The Sower


Scripture:

Mark 4:3-8

Quick Summary:

A farmer plants seeds on different soils with different results.

The Point:

When we share God with others, we will not always get the results we want...but we should still share with everyone.

Questions for Family Time:

1.  Why did the farmer waste seed on all those places?
        a. Because, maybe there was some good soil there. Maybe a plant would grow.

2. Who does the farmer represent?
        a. Me!

3. What does planting the seed represent?
     a. Sharing God’s word with others, that they could grow into a disciple of Jesus.

4. What do the different soils represent?
     a. The path is like people who don't even really listen. The rocky place are those who accept it for a minute and then go after the next thing. The thorns are like those who let the troubles of the world steal their hope. The good soil are those who accept God's word and live it, who grow to share God's word themselves. 



Deeper:
            I love the garden metaphor in this story…but not because I am a good gardener. Here is how I garden: Every winter, I start getting excited about what I will plant. I keep adding to my list until spring finally breaks, and I have listed way more than I can care for. I go to the store and get plants and seeds, trying hard to not pick more than I really can manage, always trying a couple new things I know nothing about but the kids like from the grocery store. One year I experimented with beets. One year it was kale. I plant my garden, and hope some things will take. Sure enough, with a little time, sprouts appear. Sometimes, things sprout I didn’t even mean to sprout, what my mom always called volunteers. These guys were from last year’s garden or seeds in the compost that somehow germinated. One year, I was so excited about some volunteer pumpkins; I let them take over the garden.

            The thing that I often seem to struggle with the most in getting things to grow is the balance of waiting and care. Too much attention and the plants die from being over-watered. Too little attention and they end up choked out by weeds. There is a balance between waiting and not forgetting that I often don’t strike just right. The other thing I have learned is that different plants like different soil. What made my beets grow in abundance may have very well been the reason my other plants refused to sprout.

            Jesus tells us this story about gardening right after sending out his disciples to share the word of God. I imagine they came back with mixed results. Jesus shared with them that people are like seeds in the garden. Their environment and experience makes a big difference in whether they are ready to do something with God’s word.
           
           You would think that at this point, it would be clear. He would tell his disciples to seek out those who have the best environment, the “good soil” and only plant there. Why waste the work in planting seeds among paths, rocks, and weeds?

But Jesus, he never tells a story like we are expecting. Instead, he tells us to plant everywhere. There will be people who we share God with that won’t even be listening. There will be people who will be excited, until the next thing strikes their fancy. There will be people who let the influence of others around them pull them away from God.  But there will also be people that hear the word of God, and are changed forever. These people will go on to plant more seeds than we did.

            We often make the mistake of thinking that we are the plant in this story, and somehow it is our job to make sure we are in good soil. But we are not the plant. We are the farmer, the gardener. We are the ones who are throwing God’s word into the word, sharing the love of Jesus with everyone. Even in places that seem like bad soil. Sometimes we have disappointing results. Sometimes we have great results. Whatever the results, we keep on planting.

            I think Jesus told this to his disciples to remind them that those moments when they felt they had failed, when their effort seemed fruitless, it’s not always the farmer’s fault. It’s not the seed. There are other things that we have no control over that keep people from God. Our job is to do the best we can on scattering the seed, and trust God to work on growing it. Just like I am learning with my garden, we are always balancing waiting with care. Jesus reminds us to not be so distracted with the ones who don’t allow God’s word to change them, that we forget to see those who do, who go on to plant their own seeds.

Personal Reflection:


How do you spread the seed of God’s word? Where do you spread it? How do you balance waiting and care?


Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Workers in the Vineyard

Scripture:

Matthew 20:1-15

Quick Summary:

Jesus tells this story: A man hired workers through out the day; some, first thing in the morning, some just an hour before work was done. Then he paid them all a full day’s wages. The first men were upset because they thought that wasn’t fair, but the man pointed out they were given a fair wage for their work. 

The Point:

Jesus says the point is that the last will be first and the first will be last. Jesus gives us all plenty, and doesn’t want us to compare and compete for God’s love with each other.

Questions for Family Time:

1.Tell me the story you heard today.
        a. (see above)

2.  Why were the men hired first upset?
        a. Because the guys who only worked for an hour were given the same amount of pay.

3. That does seem unfair. Why is it fair?
        a. That was a fair wage for a day’s work AND the men agreed to work for it. He wasn’t being stingy with the first men hired, he was being generous to the last men hired.

4. How did you practice being generous?
     a. Last week we helped people who have worked hard for God’s kingdom through the church. This week we are helping babies who haven’t even been to our church. We are going to be generous and help them just as we helped members last week.


Deeper:
I am going to start by admitting that of Jesus’ parables, this one is one of the hardest for me to practice. Mostly because I would fall in the category of the workers hired in the morning. I have been serving others through the church really my whole life. I began to follow a call into pastoral ministry when I was in Jr. High and have never run from serving God and others. That call has led me into some hardships. 

One of those times was when I was in seminary. I had to take a part-time pay church with no benefits while my kids were in daycare. We had to move to a tiny town where it was hard for my husband to find consistent work. We had to rely on government assistance to help us care for our kids. At the same time, I was going to seminary with a lot of people going into ministry as a second career. They had experienced financial security. I heard people in the church talk about how amazing those people were because they had sacrificed that big paycheck to go into ministry. And it was hard to not go to God and question whether this was fair, like the workers in our story. 

God gave me an answer like the man in the story. He reminded me that I knew what I was getting into by following his call. He reminded me that he would be more than generous to me because of my faithfulness. He also reminded me that I would do better to not compare my life with others. 

Maybe, like me, you have been working for God for a long time. You see people just starting to work for God and how God blesses them. And it is hard to not feel jaded. But it is in those moments that we need to remember that God is generous. He gives us all enough. We should not confuse his generosity with unfairness. And we would do well to love others with generosity no matter how long they have been working. 

It seems fitting that last week in our project we served those who have been working for God a long time: some of the oldest members of our congregation. And that this week we will be serving babies in families that aren’t even regulars at our services. This week we will be making baby blankets for the local crisis pregnancy center. Because, like Jesus, we can be generous to both, love both, and serve both.  

Personal Reflection:


How has God been generous to you? How has he rewarded you for your work for his kingdom?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Sheep and the Goats


Scripture:

Matthew 25:31-46

Quick Summary:

Jesus separates people into two groups like a farmer separates sheep and goats. He welcomes into heaven those who: fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, invited in strangers, clothed the needy, visited the sick and imprisoned.

The Point:

Jesus says when we help others, it is as if we were helping Jesus himself.

Questions for Family Time:

1.Tell me the story you heard today.

        a. (see above)

2.  Who does Jesus call sheep?
        a. the people who help others.  

3.How did you help others like Jesus said to?
        a. We fed the hungry, (and visited) the elderly    

4. How does our church do these things?
a. Feed the hungry and  give drink to the thirsty - help at the food pantry, Feed my Sheep
       c. invite the stranger- welcome people into our church; Heart House shelters the homeless, YES home provides housing for teens
       d. clothe the needy- help at the food pantry, make blankets for babies
       e. visit the sick and imprisoned- visit those in the hospital; Bible Study at the jail
4. How can you help others?
     a. Come up with some creative ways you can do each one of these: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, invite in strangers, clothe the needy, visit the sick and imprisoned.


Deeper:


          This is one of those stories Jesus tells that is pretty foundational for how we understand who we are and what our responsibilities are as followers of Jesus. This passage says that if we are to call ourselves Christians, our lives are to be filled with acts of compassion. Jesus’ disciples are to treat every person they meet as if that person was Jesus himself.  We are to help those in need, whatever that need is.
  
I think Jesus was intentional to make a list of needs that we can easily look past. It is easy to avoid people struggling with these needs. It is easy to say that it is someone else’s responsibility. But Jesus says his followers go out seeking these people, stuck in their home because of their health, or even tucked away in jail out of the view of the community. He tells us to find ignored people, people struggling with the daily necessities of life, and to help them. He tells us that we are to be proactive with our compassion.

          Jesus is such a strange king because rather than bowing at his feet, or demanding our praise, he instead says he is The Poor. The God of the Universe says he is the person who can’t afford their next meal. He is the child who walks miles each morning to find clean drinking water. He is the kid who grows too fast for his parents’ income to manage. He is the refugee running for their lives with only what they can carry. He is the sick patient. He is the inmate. How we treat the poor is how we treat Jesus. If we choose to demonize them and blame them for their struggles, we do it to Jesus. If we choose to come alongside them, empower them and treat them as wholly human, we do it to Jesus. When we love them like neighbors, we love Jesus.

          It’s easy to lose sight of these people in our busy lives, to say we have too much on our plate already. I get it. But, it’s important for us to teach our children compassion now. It’s important for us to notice Jesus in our midst, dressed in rags instead of robes. So I want to encourage you to start seeing the invisible people in the world. Let us teach our children that we have a responsibility not just to help those closest to us, but to all humankind.

Personal Reflection:

Answer #4 for yourself and your family. When have you specifically done each one? How can you show compassion in a new way in the next month?

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Good Samaritan


Scripture:

Luke 10:30-35

Quick Summary:

Jesus told a story about a man beaten by the side of the road. Two honorable men pass him by, but then a third man stopped to help. The third man was a Samaritan, which Jews didn’t like. Even though he came from the wrong family and community, he still stopped and helped the hurt man.

The Point:

No matter who is hurt or even what they think of us, Jesus wants us to help them.

Questions for Family Time:

1.Tell me the story you heard today.
        a. (see above)
2.  Who would be hard to stop and help for you? Why
            a. (this is a personal answer. The why should by along the line of “we don’t get a long.”)  

3.Who would you be surprised if they helped you?
        a. (similar answer to above)    

4. What does it mean to “love your neighbor”
       a. To help people when you see they need help, even if they are not people you like.


Deeper:


We throw around the term “Good Samaritan” a lot. It has become short hand in the news for a stranger helping a stranger. But Jesus did not call the Samaritan a stranger. He called him a Samaritan. He also didn’t call him good. For the first hearers of this story, Samaritans were neither strangers nor good.

Samaritans were Jews who had intermarried and chosen to worship God on holy places that were not considered holy to those in Jerusalem. They were living reminders of the sin that Jews felt had caused their national downfall in the Old Testament. Also, in times of national crises, they were unreliable allies. Good Jews often chose to cross the Jordan River into Gentile territory and then cross it again to avoid Samaria. That’s right. The pagans Gentiles with NO belief in God were better to travel by than the Samaritans.

That means our society’s “Good Samaritans” were not like what the readers imagined this Samaritan to be like at all. They would be the ones our society looks down upon. They are the people we expect just by the label we have given them to be unreliable.

And yet, Jesus takes this “Samaritan” and makes him the one who fulfills God’s law. It is this Samaritan who chooses to stop rather than the most respected men of the community. Which makes this parable hard for us to swallow.

First of all, because it makes us confront the fact that even when we try to treat everyone equal, we have biases about people that our society has labeled. It makes us call the person we would rather protect our children from the hero of the story.

Second, it makes us redefine our neighbor. Dearborn County residents are very good at dividing by honor. There are desirable neighborhoods and undesirable neighborhoods. We place ourselves among people like us, just like the Jews did, and avoid neighborhoods that have reputations like Samaria. Like the man who asked Jesus who his neighbor is, we find it easy to love people in our geographical neighborhood because, for the most part, they are like us. But then Jesus comes and says, your neighbor is the person in need, not the person next door. Jesus tells us we aren’t allowed to ignore the needs of others just because it isn’t happening outside of our front door. He says we are to love people in other neighborhoods.

Third, if we are really being asked to love our neighbor like the Samaritan, it means we have to be willing to help those who look down their noses at us. It means we have to love the naysayers and snobs who have torn us down and told us we are not worthy. When our hearts are cheering, “they finally got what they deserved!” Jesus bids us to show them kindness and help them get back up.

It would be easier if the Good Samaritan was just about a nice stranger. Loving your neighbor like Jesus calls us to is much harder. Not complicated. Just Hard. Thankfully, God is there to help us do the hard things he calls us to do.
           


Personal Reflection:

Who are the Samaritans that you avoid? Who are the people who treat you like a Samaritan? How is God calling you to love those neighbors?

Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Parable of Mustard Seeds and Yeast


Scripture:
Matthew 13:31-35

Quick Summary:
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that is planted and then grows to a large plant. It is also like yeast that is small when added, but then works through the whole dough and makes it large.

The Point:
God can take our little work, and make a big transformation.

Questions for Family Time:
1.What is the kingdom of heaven like?
        a. mustard seed.
2.  How?
            a. When you plant a mustard seed it so tiny, but then with time it grows all by itself into a really big plant.  
3.What is the kingdom of heaven like?
        a. yeast.    
4. How?
       a. Yeast is also small, but it is worked into the other ingredients and then over time it makes the whole bread rise.
5. How are those attributes like the kingdom of heaven?
a. We may do something that seems small for God’s kingdom, but God can take it and do something big, something transformative. All he needs is a little time.


Deeper:

The problems of our world today are vast and enormous. So big, that one person cannot make much of a dent in them. Violence, Suffering, Poverty.
          
But Jesus encourages us that actually we can make a difference. No matter how small we are, God can take the little we offer and do something transformative with it. There is a popular story of a man picking up starfish off a beach completely covered with them. He is asked why he bothers when he cannot save most of their lives. He picks one up and says, “True, but I can save this one’s life.” This story reminds us that even little things can have a big impact on another person.
          
But Jesus stretches this concept even further with his parable. He says that God can take a small act and when we leave it alone, He makes it into something greater. Even when we have walked away from the garden, or left the bread on the counter, God is doing something with it that we cannot. Something more than what we can do. God does not stop when we stop. He keeps on working. He keeps on healing the brokenness.
          
This is why when we invite someone to Junior group and they don’t come, we haven’t failed. It’s why when we put on community activity and no one new comes to church that next week we haven’t failed. It’s why when we try to start a transformative program in our community we may not see results for months or years. Sometimes our work for God’s kingdom takes time.
          
In 2014, my kids experienced their first group of learning God’s word with others. That first year, 12 kids gathered in the church basement. Faithful adults worked hard to share God’s love with these kids. In 2017, that group had expanded through invitation and excitement of those 12 kids to a record number of 49 kids. Through this program 10 people, ages spanning from infant to 60s, began attending church regularly and joined the church.
         
In 2013, a small country church started raising funds for megachurch pastors in Sierra Leone to get seminary degrees so that they could begin a seminary in Sierra Leone. In 2018, those men graduated with the help of Indiana Conference and other local churches.
          
We often feel too small to do something truly powerful in the world. We often feel like a failure when we see the same 12 kids for a year. In those moments, it is always good to remember that we serve a living God and long after we have given up or finished our job, he is at work growing something much bigger than we could have imagined.
           

Personal Reflection:
When have you seen God transform your small deed into something big?

Monday, November 12, 2018

Samuel the Boy


Scripture:
1 Samuel 3:1-21

Quick Summary:
Right at bedtime, God called out to Samuel, but Samuel thought it was the priest Eli. After three times, Eli finally realized it was God who was calling Samuel. The next time God called, Samuel said, “Here I am, Lord!” God wanted Samuel to do something very hard. God wanted him to tell Eli that his family would no longer be priests because they didn’t follow God. Samuel did it, and he kept telling people hard things for God for the rest of his life.

The Point:
God calls us, even when we are young.

Questions for Family Time:
1.     Who was the person you learned about? What made him special?
        a. Samuel was really young, but God called him.
2.  Did Samuel recognize God’s voice?
            a. No! God had to call him 4 times before he knew it was God.  
3.     What was Samuel called to do?
        a. He was called to tell the priest Eli hard things.    
4.     What is God calling you to do?


Deeper:
            Samuel is the last of our series of Judges. He is not actually recognized as a judge, though he falls in that time period. He is considered a prophet. In the Old Testament, prophets are people who take God’s word to the people. Priests are people who take people’s words to God. In the New Testament, first Jesus and now the Holy Spirit act as both prophet and priest. Through Jesus, we have full communication with God. We can be prophetic by speaking God’s truth into the world. We are also part of the priesthood of all believers, which means any of us can act as priests for each other by praying and helping them see God’s presence.
            Samuel has an amazing call story. God called him and he didn’t recognize God’s voice. It wasn’t until Eli told him, that he realized it was God talking to him. I think many of us have this experience. We may feel God calling us to do something…in our neighborhood, for someone else, or even change jobs. How do we know if that is really God or just a whim we are having?  It is something most of us struggle with as we sort out what God wants us to do.  It even happens to us who are called to be pastors.
            Just like with Samuel, most of us need someone like Eli who helps us discern God’s call. In the UMC, laity and clergy must confirm someone’s call to pastoral ministry throughout their candidacy process, which last from their call all the way through their education and three years of full time pastoral leadership. Pastors review their work and theology and then finally agree with God that this person is called and gifted to serve as a pastor.
            While not all calls are such a long process, every day God calls people in the church for specific jobs to bring his kingdom to earth. Whether it is a specific day job, or a job within the church, God calls all of us to use our abilities, personalities, knowledge, and passions to bring his glory. This week, our project leader is a member of our church that God called. She never thought she would end up in jail, but God called her to lead a bible study there. The church helped her follow that call by recognizing how she would be good at leading, and helping her with supplies.
            God is calling all of us. I hope we have the courage to follow those calls. Just as important, I hope God is using us in each other’s lives to confirm those calls.  
           

Personal Reflection:

What is God calling you to? Who else’s call can you confirm?