Thursday, April 19, 2018

Reflections - The Good Shepherd

Sheep are probably the most talked about animal in the Bible. And where there are sheep, shepherds are not very far behind.
The very famous 23rd Psalm says,  "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." In John 21: 15-19, Jesus tells Peter repeatedly to 'feed my sheep" and "tend my sheep."  In Luke and Matthew, Jesus teaches with the parable of the lost sheep.

These are just a few of the many, many mentions of sheep and shepherds in the Bible.

So, it makes sense that Jesus would use the occupation of a shepherd to help describe himself. 

In our scripture for this Sunday, Jesus described himself as a good shepherd.

In John,  Jesus says, “ I am a good shepherd and I care deeply for all the sheep in the flock. I know what they need to be healthy and happy. I know my sheep and my sheep know me. In the same way, God knows the shepherd and I know God.”
Jesus said,  “I have other sheep, who do not belong to this flock. I care for them and give them what they need. I call to them and they listen to my voice. One day there will be only one flock and one good shepherd.”
I am sure Jesus knew many shepherds. During his time of teaching and preaching and wandering about  - shepherds were all over the hillsides.  People in those days all knew about shepherds so Jesus talked about himself in a way that would be familiar to them. Everyone at that time probably knew that leading sheep was a hard, dirty, dangerous, and not at all glamorous business. 

Here is a little Shepherding 101 from those days: 
  • Shepherds had to locate good pastures and remove poisonous plants before allowing sheep to graze.
  • Shepherds checked the sheep to make sure they we healthy and free from harmful insects. They cared for cuts and scrapes on the sheep.
  • Water was in short supply, so shepherds worked hard to find good drinking spots. 
  • Sometimes there would be more than one flock at the watering spot, and the sheep would get mixed up. Shepherds could keep whichever sheep followed them.
  • Shepherds had to make sure that their sheep recognized their voice and followed them, so they wouldn't lose any of them. Shepherds would sing and talk to the sheep from the time they were born. This way the sheep grew up knowing the shepherd's voice.
  • Shepherds had to protect the sheep from wild animals. A good shepherd would not run away when danger threatened. even if it meant being attacked by a wild animal.
  • At night, shepherd would gather the flock into a sheepfold or pen for protection. A good shepherd would lie across the entrance of the fold or act as the gate so that predators would have to get past the sheep first.
This week I have been thinking a lot about the part of this passage were Jesus says,  "Follow me and listen to my voice, and I will care for you.” 

So when Jesus calls us to follow his voice - he wants it to be because we know him. We recognize him. We follow him because we know that he is the one that will care for us and teach about God's love for us. When, like the sheep who get mixed up with another flock, we will follow his voice as our leader. 

In this week's scripture, Jesus also warned the listeners about the bad shepherds. “Beware of those who pretend to be the good shepherd.  They will do the same things that I do, but they will do only the things that helps them, and not the sheep."  Jesus wants his voice to be louder than other voices that can distract us. 

This passage reminds me that Jesus promises his voice and his teachings will bring us back to God and God will never let us go.

Questions to think about:  
Who takes care of you?
Whom or what do you take care of?
How can we remember that Jesus cares for us?
What voices and distractions are luring you away from where Jesus, the good shepherd is leading?
What can you do to better listen to Jesus' voice in the coming week?

Friday, April 13, 2018

What We are Reading- April 2018

Here are April favorites -
all available 
through the Carnegie Library.  Enjoy!

Bear feels sick

by Wilson, Karma,

Green green : a community gardening story


Ask me

by Waber, Bernard,

One world, one day

by Kerley, Barbara.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Reflections - Jesus meets us where we are

True Confessions: When I was in the 5th grade I totally lied about reading  "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle. That year, the book was one of the novels my teacher gave extra points for reading.  I think most of the girls in my class read it and it was "the thing" everyone was talking about. I wanted to read it. I loved the cover. I got my parents to buy me my very own paperback copy and carried it around and displayed it on my bookshelf.  I liked the idea of it - I knew about the characters and plot from my friends. But, I just couldn't seem to ever concentrate on it when I tried to read it. I just didn't get it and couldn't get into it.  I really wanted to love it like all my classmates -  but I guess it just wasn't for me at the time. 

I did finally read it a few years later - probably 9th or 10th grade. And this time it stuck. I loved it - and I still love that book. It's one of those books that I reread every couple of years. 
If I had forced myself to read it in 5th grade I probably would have hated it and never gave it a second try.  I guess I just wasn't ready. 

This has happened to me with other books and other things in life as well.  Sometimes things just find us when we are ready -  when our minds and hearts are open to accept and receive. 

I've been thinking this week that Jesus is like this. 

In this week's Scripture passage from Luke, we find the disciples again hiding behind a locked door following the Resurrection and Jesus appears to them and saying "Peace be with you." 

Read Luke 24: 36-49

The scripture says they are terrified and think Jesus is a ghost.  Very patiently, Jesus shows them he is real by showing them the wounds on his hands and feet.  The disciples were starting to come around but "while in their joy were still disbelieving and wondering."  Jesus -  to further show his realness  - tells them he is hungry and asks for some food. (Ghosts don't eat - right?)  

Luke writes that Jesus "opened their minds"  to understand scripture and calls them to be witnesses. But, he also tells them to wait until they have been "clothed with power from on high." He wants them to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  They will receive it when they are ready.  (Stay tuned for the story of Pentecost in a few weeks!)

This week I am thinking about how many times God has waited for me.   Jesus patiently waited for the disciples to "get it." Jesus explains time and time again who he is and tells of God's forgiveness and love.  Jesus tells us in not so many words that God waits patiently and lovingly for all of us, too. 

We may not always understand or recognize the ways that God is working in the world or in our lives, but I believe that God is patient and will be there when we are ready. 

What are some things that have "found" you when you were ready? 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

New Children's Story Bible

I have something new to recommend! I have added to my collection of children's story Bibles and I think you will love this one, too! 

Growing in God s Love: A Story Bible is for children ages 4-8, but I think older kids will want read along as well. The book was created and edited by two educators that I respect and have learned a lot from over the years.  Elizabeth F. Caldwell is Professor Emerita of Pastoral Theology at McCormick Theological Seminary and Visiting Professor in Religious Education at Vanderbilt Divinity School.  She is a Christian educator, author, and was one of the editors of the Common English Bible translation.  Carol A. Wehrheim is also an author and  Christian educator.  She is the general editor for the Feasting on the Word curriculum which we use in our Sunday school classes. 

The story Bible is made up of 150 Bible stories that are organized in to themes and each story has a beautiful and diverse illustration.  The stories are short, one or two pages, and  are short enough to hold a child's attention but are packed with great details.   Each story is concluded with three reflection questions that invite the readers to "Hear, See, and Act."

There is a lovely introduction written by the editors describing how the themes and stories were chosen and help for parents in using these stories as part of their spiritual practice at home.

This story Bible uses inclusive language for God. 

"It is our hope that children will grow up with names for God that are not limiting but are invite them engage in their growth and life of faith by dwelling in the mystery of God who is healer, spirit, shepherd, friend, mother, caregiver, peacemaker, father - all of these things and many more, " the editors write. 

I invite you to take a look at the copy I have here at the church and consider getting one for your family. I think this is a Children's Story Bible that would be great as a gift for a baptism or young child. 

The book is available on Amazon or order it through your favorite bookstore.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Reflections- I guess you had to be there...

Happy Easter! Now, that we are all stuffed full of ham and jelly beans it's time to move on to the the scripture accounts of what happened with the disciples after Jesus has risen. This week we land on the Gospel of John's telling about Thomas.  Doubting Thomas, as he has come to be known.

Read John 20: 19-31

I've been thinking this week that Thomas has gotten a bad rap over the years.  Being known as the "doubting" one give the impression that he's the skeptic. The unfaithful one. The one that doesn't have the faith of the others.  Well, I call B.S. I think he was a follower of Jesus who was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Here's the scene:
On the same day the women found the empty tomb, Jesus surprised the disciples. They were in a room with the door locked and afraid the people who killed Jesus would come after them.  Thomas was not there. Suddenly Jesus was in the room with them, but no one had unlocked he door.  Jesus says “Peace be with you.” 
Before he left, he showed them the scars on his hands and side.  The disciples were joyful and happy, according to the scripture. 

So Thomas comes back and the disciples are all  “Jesus is back! We have seen him!”
And Thomas is all "Pffft. Yeah- right." 

Okay, so what the Gospel actually says is something more like: 
“I am not sure I believe what you say. I will believe you when I see Jesus in person, myself, I want to see him with my own eyes.” 

I mean, who could blame him. That's a pretty miraculous thing to just believe with seeing. I can relate. Imagine being Thomas and coming into that room. I imagine he felt annoyed and left out because he missed something big. It's like when a group of friends all have a great story from an event you didn't get to participate in - or an inside joke that you just don't get because you weren't there. I mean, he missed Jesus Christ. That's got to hurt. 

I guess you had to be there. 

So,  eight days later, the disciples were gathered together in the same room again and this time Thomas was there.  Suddenly Jesus was in the room, even though the door was locked. Jesus blessed them by saying, “Peace be with you.”
Jesus said to Thomas; “Put your hands on my hands. See the marks where the soldiers hurt me? Here I am, scars and all. Believe that I am alive!”

And Thomas touched him and said “Jesus—it is you!”
No more skeptic. No more doubting Thomas.  But the name still stuck. 

Jesus said to Thomas: “ Do you believe it’s me because you can see me? Blessed are the people that don’t see me and still believe."  

Jesus is telling Thomas that God will show up, even when the door is locked.  God will show up even when we have a million questions, doubts and fears.   I am reminding myself this week that it's through our doubts and questions that we grown and learn and feel closer to God.  I am praying this week that I am paying attention to the ways that Jesus is trying to show me the scars on his hands.  I am reminding myself  that God is always with us and is working in the world, despite my doubts and questions.   

I am a skeptic just like Thomas. I want someone to show me and spell it out for me. It's hard to believe in something that you can see or prove.  But I think through this scripture Jesus is reminding us that he will never say, "I guess you had to be there"  - and will keep showing us God's love as long as we keep asking questions. 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Readings for Holy Week - 2018

Jesus appears before Pilate
Read Mark 15: 2-5
Who is Jesus to you?

Jesus is sentenced to death
Read Mark 15: 12-15
How do you respond when you see injustice?

Jesus is Mocked by Soldiers
Read Mark 15: 17-20
When have you said or done something that dishonored Jesus?

Simon Carries Jesus' cross
Read Mark 15: 21
What might God be calling you to do to serve?

Jesus is crucified
Read Mark 15:25-26
Why on earth do Christians call the day that remembers this event Good Friday?

Jesus is mocked while on the cross. Jesus cries out to God. Jesus dies.
Read Mark 15: 29-37
What do you want to ask God about Jesus' death?

Readings and questions adapted from Feasting on the Word Multi-age Spring 2018 Sunday school curriculum. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Reflections - Palm Sunday

Can you believe we are already almost through Lent?

This Sunday is Palm Sunday where we first celebrate  - and then begin the journey through Holy week.  The "palm" in Palm Sunday refers to the branches the crowd waved to celebrate Jesus coming to Jerusalem. 
This painting is called "Entry of Christ into Jerusalem "
(1320) by Pietro Lorenzett

It's also called Passion Sunday - with the word "passion" referring to Jesus' execution less than a week later.  

Who knows if some of the people celebrating Jesus' arrival were among the people that were later in the week demanding his crucifixion, but I am assuming some of them were. Jesus' situation changed very quickly. 

Can think about a time when things in your life changed as quickly?

Here's what I am thinking about his week:
Aren't we sometimes are guilty of the same things? Waving a celebrating and worshiping when we are happy and things are good - and then ignoring and not noticing God's presence other times? 

Maybe even blaming God when things are not going so well?
Or at least wondering, "God - where the heck are you?"

It's kinds of easy to judge those people who changed so quickly on Jesus - but to be fair they didn't know what would happen to Jesus next. I've been thinking that - even though I know the end of the story I have those times where I am waving palms on Sunday and ignoring God on Monday.

This week I am focusing on ways that I can - everyday - fully recognize God working in the world and my life - even on the days when I am not celebrating and definitely don't feel like waving palms. 

This year we are reading the Gospel writer Mark's version of the Palm Sunday story.

Read Mark 11: 1-11

Mark's words were meant to be read out loud to people who where followers and believers of Jesus - people that believed Jesus was the Son of God and who were trying to understand what it meant to be followers of a Lord who was crucified.

Try reading this passage out loud to yourself. Does it sound different or do you notice different things when read aloud? 

When I read it, I am struck by the obedience of the disciples and the joyous words of celebration of the people and I am thinking ahead to how quickly things change. But, as Pastor Vincent says "the only way through is through."  We need to move through Holy Week and through the sadness and pain of the crucifixion to get to the rest of the story.

Stay tuned... next week I'll be posting daily scripture readings to take us through Holy week.