Friday, July 10, 2020

Refections for Youth - Seeds and Soil

There's a park just a few miles down the road from my house with access to Cross Creek Lake. On the cooler days, I like to venture over there and dangle my feet off the boat launch into the water.  I also like to people-watch. These days there are a lot of people taking advantage of the large lake to kayak, fish and go out on their boats. Last week, I watched a couple head out in their kayaks along with their two dogs. I can guarantee that my dog would never-ever stay in the kayak! 

Anyway, the other day when I was out there I was thinking about the times in the scripture when Jesus was out on the water.

There is a scripture passage in the 13th chapter of Matthew that tells about a time when Jesus was sitting by a lake. A lot of people had gathered around him, so many people that he climbed into a boat and went out on to the water away from the shore so everyone could see and hear him.

From the boat, he told a parable.  Parables are stories that Jesus told that teach about something. Jesus used stories about things people knew about so they would understand. This story was about seeds and good soil.  If you have been planting or gardening this summer - then maybe this story will make sense. 

Read Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23

Jesus told the followers about a farmer who scattered seeds on the ground. Some seeds landed on a path. Some birds came along and ate the seeds, so the plants didn’t grow. Some seeds landed in dirt with lots of rocks. The sun was too hot and burned those seeds, so the plants didn’t grow. Some seeds landed in dirt with too many weeds. The weeds choked the seeds and crowded them so the plants didn’t grow. But some seeds landed in good soil, and the plants grew and grew!

Jesus wants us to share God’s words like the farmer who scattered the seeds.  Just like some of the seeds didn’t grow, some people will not listen to God’s words. But many people will listen and God’s word will grow in them and all of us.

Have you ever talked to a friend about God? It's scary - right?  Especially if you are not exactly sure what you feel or believe. But give it a try. Ask questions and listen. You might be surprised at what ideas and thoughts may land in good soil and grow.  




Thursday, July 2, 2020

Refections for Youth - Persistance (and more Pineapple)


So here is a familiar scenario: Let's say you really, really like a certain food.

Maybe it's pineapple on pizza.

So, you recommend it to someone. You tell them its delicious. They may tell you that they've never tried it. Or they tell you that they don't like pineapple so they know they wouldn't like it. Maybe they make a lot of excuses about why they won't try it. But still, you invite them to try it anyway. Harkening the words of grandmothers everywhere, "You never know unless you try." 

We give it our best shot. Why? Because you love it and enjoy it and want someone else to enjoy it, too.
 
So, this is probably a really simplistic example, but it is the type of conversation that Jesus is talking about in this week's scripture. 

It's a little confusing out of context so here is some background. At this point in Jesus' narrative, he is with traveling around with the disciples and teaching and preaching in their cities. John the Baptist, who is in prison, hears about what Jesus is doing and asks his followers to ask Jesus if he is really the Messiah that they have been waiting for, or should they look and wait for another. Jesus tells the people to go back and tell John what they have seen have heard. He wants them to tell John about the people that have been healed and reached by his ministry. After John's followers had departed, Jesus talks to crowds about the appeal and significance of John's ministry. He reminds people that John is a prophet that came before him to prepare the people for the coming Messiah. And he reminds them that starting with John, people have rejected and violently reacted to the teachings about the Kingdom in Heaven. 

So here's is where this verse starts. Jesus talks to "this generation" - the crowds that he is speaking to. He uses analogist language and says that the people are like children sitting in the marketplace and that they (he and John) have come with messages of God's love and peace and it was rejected. They called John a "demon." Jesus scolds the people who have seen his greatest miracles yet didn't change their hearts and lives.
 
Jesus is saying that there are certain people, who, no matter what you offer them, they will make excuses to refuse and reject what is being offered. But it's more than just convincing someone to try pineapple on pizza. Jesus was inviting them to receive God's love and peace.
 
The people in the story responded like I do when my husband cooks liver and onions. I make a bunch of excuses not to try it. 

The people who make excuses may think that their reasons make sense, even if those excuses don't make sense to others. But whatever their reasons were, the end result was that they said no to what Jesus was offering them. 

Despite people saying to Jesus, “No, I won’t listen to you or try what you are saying because I have excuses” Jesus kept sharing God’s love and peace. And because Jesus kept sharing and inviting, he also found people, like the disciples, that said "Yes, I will follow you." They said, "Yes, I will try that pineapple pizza."

We know what happened next. Those people kept sharing with others just like Jesus did and so on and so on. So, here we are in our lifetime and people are still choosing to follow Jesus and share God's love and peace with others. 

For me this week, the message Jesus is sharing here is a comfort with all that is going on in the world. It is a reminder that I can choose for myself what my values are and what I believe in. I can share those beliefs with others. Some won't agree. Some won't listen, make excuses, and not try to understand. But, I can keep sharing because there are some people who will listen.

Long story short: Keep Swimming. Don't give up on sharing what you think is right and what you believe. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

Reflections for Youth - Who lives in a Pinapple Under the Sea?

Yinz guys.

I bought a pineapple. I didn't have it on my grocery list - but when I walked in the door of the Squirrel Hill Giant Eagle, there it was. Right in front of me. It looked so welcoming and inviting that I put it in my cart. 

Now, do I know how to properly cut a whole pineapple? Nope. But I am sure a can find an instructional YouTube video to help me out. 

I think perhaps the reason I grabbed the pineapple is that I learned a while ago that in many parts of the world a pineapple is a sign of welcome.  

In southern states or at places along the eastern seaboard you might see a pineapple carved into the entry of a home; or maybe brass door knockers in the shape of a pineapple attached to their doors. My husband's family lives in South Carolina and we've traveled through the state quite a bit. Pineapples are common decor inside and outside of homes. 

Long ago, before there were airplanes, pineapple, which grew in tropical climates, was not available to most people in the world. Explorers returning from a voyage sometimes brought pineapple to their king and sailors fastened a pineapple to their gate post when they returned from sea. As a result of these customs, the pineapple became a sign of welcome. 

Here are some pictures - maybe you've seen some, too. 





One other random thought? Spongebob Squarepants LIVES in a pineapple under the sea. I wonder if that's not just a silly cartoon idea but an intentional symbol of welcome?  


This week's scripture passage from Matthew is just two verses (40-42) from the 10th chapter (NRSV) 

40 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

It's a pretty easy formula. Welcome others = Welcoming God. 

When we welcome others, when we make others feel comfortable and love, we are sharing the love of  God. And we are welcoming God.

There are many kinds of welcomes and we have many ways of welcoming others.  Now, while we are in the middle of a pandemic welcoming others is kind of complicated. But even just a wave, a smile, or a sign in your window could make others feel welcome and loved. 

Maybe you can even give someone a pineapple!


 


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Summer Resource for Families: "'Great and Small' Guide to the Okayest Summer Ever!"

Hello! It's officially Summer! I am sharing what I think is a really great six-week devotion/activity guide for families.

It's called “‘Great and Small’ Guide to the Most Okayest Summer Ever!” from the saltproject.org and is written by Rev. Quinn Caldwell. It's full of conversation starters, activities, and witty ideas for making the most of this summer.

“‘Great and Small’ Guide to the Most Okayest Summer Ever!” is organized around six songs from SALT’s house band, Butterflyfish. MP3s of the songs are linked here along with the PDF. Each song brings a biblical story or theological idea to life, making it a springboard for activities and conversations that individuals, families, and children of all ages can enjoy. 

Great and Small' Guide to the Okayest Summer Ever

“‘Great and Small’ Guide to the Most Okayest Summer Ever” has been purchased for our congregational use. Click the link above to request access to the files. If you have any trouble please email me at Jennyrunew@gmail.com.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Youth Refections - An Origin Story


Are you a fan of superheroes?

One of the things that I love about superheroes is learning about their origin stories. 

An origin story is when you find out about a character’s past and how they became who they are. 

So let’s talk about Spider-man.  


If you know about the origin story of Spiderman – you might remember that Spiderman is a person named Peter Parker.  And you have probably heard this quote – “With great power comes great responsibility.”   It’s known as the "Peter Parker Principal" to comic book fans. Here is some comic book trivia: The quote is often attributed to Pete’s Uncle Ben – but in the comic book Amazing Fantasy #15, where the phrase first appears – it is not spoken by any character. In fact, Ben has only two lines in the entire comic. The original version of the phrase appears in a narrative caption of the comic’s last panel.

That’s probably more than you wanted to know.

I’ve been thinking about origin stories and that famous quote because our scripture this week takes us back to the beginning of the story of Jesus and his disciples. The of the Gospel of Matthew tells us about Jesus calling them to be his followers and his instructions to them.  So, this is their origin story.

Read Matthew 9: 35-10:8


From the time after his baptism, Jesus gathered the people who would travel with him wherever he went. The first disciples he chose were fishing in the Sea of Galilee. Two sets of brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew, James, and John. They left their boats and nets to travel with Jesus.

And then Jesus met a tax collector named Matthew. Tax collectors were not liked at all by the Jewish people because they collected for the Romans. But Jesus, even though he knew that no one likes him, stopped and talked to Matthew and said, “Follow me.”

After he called them, Jesus gave instructions and taught the disciples. He said to them, “you have the power to heal every sickness. It will be soon time for you to go out in the villages without me and do what I do.”

Here are some other things Jesus told the disciples according to the Gospel of Matthew:
Go only to the people of Israel and announce “The kingdom of Heaven is near.” Heal the people who are sick and do not accept any money for what you do. Don’t take anything extra with you, like a bag of clothes. If you find someone good in a place, stay with that family. When you enter a house say “Peace.” If the people are mean to you, leave that house right away and don’t go back. Don’t worry about what to say because God will give you words.

That seems like a lot of things to remember.  I wonder what the disciples were thinking about all this.  Perhaps Jesus was reminding them that “with great power, comes great responsibility.”

What are your favorite origin stories? 


Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Youth Reflections - Learning, Listening, and Teaching

"But here's the thing: In order to teach, we must first be the student. We must listen to others that are teaching us with their experiences, their wisdom, and their lives. "

Hey friends - get your mouse-clicking and page-swiping fingers ready. This week's reflection is stuffed full of links to articles, videos, resources, and lists.  

Learning, Listening, and teaching. That's what I am thinking about this week. 


 To say "There's a lot going on" is a gigantic understatement! Our city and other cities across the country are filled with protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis while are navigating the Covid-19 pandemic. Never before has listening to scientists, medical experts, and people of color been so important. They are our teachers.  They are people that we need to learn from so we can teach others.

That's exactly what this week's scripture passage from the Gospel of Matthew is about. These verses are known as "The Great Commission."  It's called that because in the passage the resurrected Jesus gives the disciples instructions to spread his teachings all over the world. 

Here's the scripture: 


The Commissioning of the Disciples16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”[a]
What is something thing that you know well or have learned that you can teach others about?

In his Great Commission, Jesus tells the disciples to go out and find their own students and teach what Jesus taught them. Jesus was unique and sometimes we might think that we could never do the things he did. This passage reminds us that Jesus did not think this way about himself.  We may not be able to turn water into wine but we can love God and love our neighbor. And teach others to do so as well. 

But here's the thing: In order to teach, we must first be the student. We must listen to others that are teaching us with their experiences, their wisdom, and their lives. 

Here is a list of resources and voices that can teach us.

African-American history,biography, and culture books for middle and high school students



More Young Adult reading suggestions

Article: For Our White Friends Desiring to be Allies


The New York Times has created a series of informative videos explaining implicit biases. Get started watching the series HERE