Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Advent Reading Suggestions -2020

Here are a few suggestions for devotionals and daily readings for Advent! Ask your favorite local bookseller to order one for you.

A Weary World Reflections for a Blue Christmas by Kathy Escobar 
In A Weary World, Escobar provides twenty-eight daily reflections paired with prayers and practices to honor our struggles during the holidays.  There are also free resources available for group and additional study;  A Weary World additional resources

Always a Guest by Barbara Brown Taylor
While this is not an advent devotional, this collection of stories and sermons of faith, grace and, and hope will do well for weekly or daily reading. 

Advent for Everyone: A Journey with the Apostles by N.T. Wright
Biblical scholar and author N. T. Wright provides his own Scripture translation and brief reflection, helping readers understand Advent in the wider context of God’s love. Each week discusses key themes for the season: thanksgiving, patience, humility, and joy. 

The Advent Story Book by Laura Richie
The Advent Storybook offers a simple question at the end of each story that helps readers engage in understanding the bigger story God wants us all to know—the good news of Jesus. 

"God With Us' by Katie Pawlack
"God With Us" makes the celebration of Advent simple, memorable, and gospel-focused. Daily readings correspond with twenty-five symbols from the Old and New Testaments.  Short prayers and extension activities provide a flexible and engaging approach to celebrating Advent.  Following in the tradition of The Jesse Tree, in the days leading up to Christmas a tree, banner, or branch is decorated with ornaments depicting symbols from stories in the Bible that point ahead to the lineage and birth of Christ, the long-awaited Messiah. Images of hand-embroidered felt ornaments accompany each day's reading. The appendices at the back of the book list the verses referenced for each reading in full, as well as images of each day's ornament or symbol that can be photocopied and made into ornaments. 

Unwrapping the Names of Jesus by Asheritah Ciuciu
This devotional leads readers through the four weeks of Advent (Hope, Preparation, Joy, and Love). Each week includes an interactive family devotional that equips readers to celebrate Advent together, offers five daily reflections that focus on that week's name of Jesus, and includes suggestions for fun-filled family activities or service projects.  

More Suggestions! Visit these blog posts from the past few years to find some other reading recommendations: 

Advent 2019

Advent 2018 

Advent and Christmas Favorites


Sunday School - November 1, 2020

This week we are traveling back to the Old Testament and exploring the story of Joshua and Israelites crossing the River Jordan. Our theme will be talking about promises and the covenant that God made with the people. 

You can read the NRSV scripture here: 

Joshua 3: 7-17

Before the story, it might be helpful to review some background about Moses and the events leading up to this story. Here is some helpful stuff! 




Share today's story from our lesson plan:

Story sheet

Also, here is a video that illustrated the story:

Activities and Coloring Sheets:

Coloring Sheet


Echo Story


Storybooks About Promises:

Just Me and My Little Brother

The Name Jar

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Sunday School - October 25, 2020

Today we are continuing in the Gospel of Matthew and will be reading about Jesus and "The Great Commandment."   

Share the story from our lesson plan: 

Story Sheet

You can read the NRSV version of the passage here:  

Matthew 22: 1-14.

Activity and Coloring Sheets:  

Greatest Commandment puzzle

Folding Activity

Story Books that go along with today's passage: 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Sunday School - October 18, 2020

Today we are continuing with the Parables of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew. The Parable of the Wedding feast is found in Matthew 22: 1-14.

This is a parable that is not commonly found in children's story Bibles. The link above is to the NRSV version of the Bible.  Read this version of the story with children or from any version you may have at home.  The Message translation of the scripture is a good, readable one.  Also linked below are some fun video interpretations that you can watch together. 

The Message

Parable Story Video

Star Wars Lego Version 

About the passage: 

After reading the story here are some questions to think about and discuss: 
(Remember it's okay to not have answers! Exploring the story together is the most important part.) For some story context, remember that this story comes after Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem with his disciples (Palm Sunday), and this passage is one of a series of conversations Jesus has with the Pharisees who have been questioning Jesus' authority. 

  • Who is Jesus telling this story to? 

  • What was your favorite part of the story?

  • What did you think of the King (who was holding the party)?

  • What didn’t the people invited want to intend?

  • How would you feel if you were one of the people attending the party? 

  • What do you think about the man who was sent away because of how he was dressed?

  • The end of the story might seem unfair and confusing to us. Do you think Jesus is teaching that we have to be “chosen” for God’s kingdom? 

  • Why do you think Jesus was telling this story?

  • What does this story teach us today?

  • Jesus says that God wants everyone to be in His kingdom, and offers love to all people. What do we have to do to be a part of it?

  • How can we invite people to be a part of God’s Kingdom?

Children's story about inclusion:


Coloring Sheets and Activity Sheet based on Matthew 22: 1-14

Friday, October 9, 2020

Reflections for Youth - Anxiety, Anger, Peace, and Joy

Stress. Anxiety. Anger. Yup, these are three words that we are all quite familiar with these days. It kind of makes me chuckle a little bit when I read the words of this scripture passage from Philippians. Paul, writing to the Philippians and he tells them not to worry. 

Don't worry about it. 

Geesh. Okay, Paul. Easy for you to say. Almost impossible.

But upon reflection, I am guessing it wasn't an easy thing for him to say. At this point in Paul's life, he's writing to the community in Philippi from somewhere in prison. He's pretty sure he's not going to see any of these people that he loves and ministers to again.  All he's got to keep him going are the letters that he is sending an receiving. Yet, he is still faithful. He still loves and trusts God. He wants the people to know that his encouragement not to worry is rooted in the promise that the God who loves us is near and is listening.  Paul wants them to know that they can feel joyful and be peaceful when they have trusting communication with God. 

 Read Philippians 4: 1-9 

So, this passage starts out with "Therefore, my brothers and sisters whom I love and miss."  It starts with "therefore" because this is his final chapter in this letter. He's wrapping things up. If you want to read back a few verses (Phil. 3: 20-21) you will find that he is telling the community that their "Citizenship is heaven." He says Jesus will come from there and transform us to be a part of this kingdom. So, therefore... and we move on to his advice.  

First, he mentions Euodia and Syntyche and urges them to settle their disagreement. We know that they are two female leaders in the early church, but we don't know what it is that they are at odds about. Given the speed of letters and how news traveled back then it must have been pretty interesting for Paul to learn about it in prison and then respond to it in his letter. All we can guess is that this conflict was causing worry for the church in Phillipi so he calls it out.  Paul acknowledges that conflict and stress are a real problem. 

We all know about that, am I right? Paul says that conflict, anger, and worry are all obstacles to peace. Read verses 4 - 9 again of this scripture and think about these questions: 

  • What or who does Paul believe peace and joy are rooted in?
  • How does Paul say we can cultivate peace and joy?
  •  What thoughts or practices can we cultivate today for greater peace and joy?

One spiritual practice that we can work on is prayer. Here are some things to watch. Totally different types of prayer are depicted in the movies "Joe Vs. The Volcano" and "The Apostle." In the first clip, Joe is lost at sea when he watches the moon rise and utters a prayer of thanks.  In the second video “Sonny” prays an honest and very angry prayer for peace.

Stuff to think about: 

  •  What do you think about Joe’s prayer in Joe vs. the Volcano?
  • What do you think about Sonny’s prayer in The Apostle?
  •  What kinds of prayers lead to peace and joy?
  • How do you talk to God? 

Labyrinth: Here is another spiritual practice that you might want to try. Tracing or walking a Labyrinth can help us relax and seek peace and joy.  Try this one below. Follow along with your finger or your eyes and reflect on the prompts provided at the designated points. 

Download Labyrinth Here 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Sunday School - October 11, 2020

Our Sunday School lesson this week on Philippians 4: 1-9 in the New Testament. In this passage, Paul is writing a letter to the community encouraging and celebrating happiness, joy, and embracing God's presence. 

You can read the Scripture passage here: 

Philippians 4: 1-9 

Or share the story from our Sunday school curriculum: 

Story Images: 

Coloring Sheets: 


Children's Stories about Happiness and Joy:

Taking a Bath with a Dog

The Happiness Jar 

1oo things that make me Happy

Friday, October 2, 2020

Reflections for Youth - Stewardship, Vineyards, and Jesus - Oh My!

This week's scripture from the Gospel of Matthew is a hum-dinger. Jesus tells a story that is violent and very much in-your-face.  There are a lot of questions here to think about. And of course, there is no one correct answer.  For me, this is the most interesting and challenging thing about reading the Bible. You get to read it and decide what it means for yourself and your life. So, in this reflection, I am just going to compile some thoughts and questions to get us started in thinking about this passage. 

Read Matthew 21: 33-46

Here's the 30-second version:

Jesus' authority is being questioned by the religious leaders and this is the second of two stories that he tells them.  A farmer planted a vineyard and builds a fence around it and a tall tower in order to watch over it.  He rented the vineyard to some farmworkers and goes away on a trip. When it was time to pick the grapes, the farmer sent some of his servants to the vineyard to get his share of the grapes. But the farmworkers beat the servants and even killed some of them. The farmer decided to send a larger number of more servants to go get the grapes that belonged to him. The farmworkers beat and killed them, too. He decided to send his son, thinking that maybe the farmworkers didn't respect the servants. Maybe it would be different for his son. Nope. No dice.  Before the son arrives the farmworkers in the tower see him coming. They said,  “Here comes the farmer’s son. If we kill him, the farmer won’t send anyone else for the grapes and this vineyard will be ours.”
So, that happened.

Jesus ends the story in conversation with the religious leaders. They say  “The farmer will get rid of those cruel, greedy farmworkers and get new honest, kind workers.” Jesus replies by quoting some scripture and saying yes. “God’s kingdom will be taken away from you and given to a different people,” he says. The scripture says then the religious leaders knew that Jesus was talking about them. (Sorry, maybe that was longer than 20-seconds?)

Soooo, let's jump in. This time of year at the church we talk about Stewardship.  Our steward campaign is when we talk about taking care of the church and ask for our members to make their giving pledges for the following church year. To steward - as a verb - means to look after or take care of something or someone.  Like the farmworkers are asked to take care of the Vineyard. 

Thinking about this story can help us consider how we are practicing faithful stewardship of the places where we live but of our relationships as well.  As we grow, learn, and move through the world we gain a sense of concern for the wider world - the word beyond just our neighborhoods. We are moved to take action and care for people and the earth. As we get older this becomes a greater responsibility as we see that people's decisions and choices have consequences.  This parable or allegory that Jesus tells here in Matthew helps us to think about what responsible stewardship is and what God is calling us to do about it. 

What are the "vineyards" in our lives and the world that God has placed in our care?

In this scripture passage remember that the religious leaders have been continually questioning Jesus' authority and Jesus responds with parables and stories.  In this case, it seems to be more of an allegory. We learn from our English and literature teachers that an allegory is used as a popular form of writing (or storytelling here in Jesus' case) in which a story points to a hidden or symbolic parallel meaning. For example, certain elements in the story such as people, things, or events point to corresponding elements in another realm or level of meaning. 

If you are ready to dive into sorting our the allegory that Jesus tells here, here are some things to think about:  Jesus in this story seems to be referencing Isaiah 5:1–7. Read it here.   

What similarities are there between Jesus’ parable and Isaiah 5?
 Based on Isaiah 5, who might the landowner represent in Jesus’ story?

  • Why do you imagine the landowner leaves?
  • What might the vineyard symbolize in Jesus’ story?

In this parable the landowner lets others care for his vineyard.

  • What might Jesus be saying about God?
  •  Who might the tenants symbolize?

The landowner sends slaves to collect the harvest.

  • What do you imagine the landowner wants the harvest for?
  • Who might the slaves symbolize?

The landowner finally sends his son. 

  • What happens to the son?
  •  Who might the son symbolize?
  • What might be some meanings of the whole parable?

One interpretation of this parable views God as the landowner, the vineyard as God’s people, the tenants as the religious leaders, the slaves as God’s prophets, and the son as Jesus.  Using this interpretation here are some more questions:

  • What might Jesus be saying about himself? About the religious leaders?
  • To whom does Jesus say the kingdom of God will be given? (See v. 43.)
  •  What does it mean to produce the “fruits of the kingdom”?

Some final thoughts:

God gives the tenants great responsibility.

  • Why do you think God gives people responsibility?
  • What “vineyards” has God given you? What or who are you called to care for?
  • How can we be faithful stewards today of God’s creation? Of God’s people?

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Sunday School - October 4, 2020

Our Sunday School lesson for October 4 focuses on Jesus' telling of the Vineyard Parable also known as the Parable of the Tenants.  During the Sunday session, we will focus on listening.   

Read the NRSV Version here:
Matthew 21: 33-46

This version of the story is relatable for younger students: 

Here is the scripture passage from our weekly lesson plan: 

Here are some questions you can ask your students before reading the story: 

  • What is a good way to get someone to listen to you?
  • Can you think of some people from the Bible that listened to Jesus when he talked about God?
  • Can you think about some people that didn’t?

Here are some questions you can ask your students following the story: 

  • What did you think about the story?
  • Who were the people in the story that are mean? Why were they mean? 
  • Why do you think Jesus told the Pharisees this story? 
  • What was he telling them about God? 
  • Why do you think the Pharisees didn't want to listen to Jesus?

Here are some children's stories about listening:

Quiet Please, Owen McPhee by Trudi Ludwig

Stega Nona by Tomiede Paola

 Wordy Birdy by Tammie Sauer

But Wait! There's More! 

Oct. 4 is World Wide Communion Sunday. Here are some things to watch to learn more. 

This week's Time for Children from our worship service:

What is Communion?
The Last Supper