Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Reflections for Youth - Breathing

Just Breathe. 

That's what I've been telling myself this week. 

Hearing the word "pandemic" is still so unreal to me.  There's a lot of feelings happening all at once and maybe you are feeling some of these things, too:  Scared for those getting sick, worried about friends and family getting sick, frustrated with the government's response, bored, tired, sad about all the things that have been canceled or put on hold, worried about those who are struggling because they are missing work, and the list can go on and on.  

So, I've been taking some extra time when I am feeling overwhelmed to just sit and breathe.  The Old Testament scripture for this week has been such a help in reminding me that God is with us during this weird time.  This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. I know it seems like I say that a lot - but I truly love this story. It's creepy and weird and yet reassures me God's Holy Spirit is within us. 

Read Ezekiel 37: 1-14. 

So, the story is about Ezekiel who is a priest and a prophet. He has a vision or a dream about being in a desert filled with dry, creepy bones. God asks Ezekiel if the bones can live - and asks him to speak to the bones.  So, he does as the Lord asks and the bones rattle and come together and are covered in skin - but they have no life.  So God tells him to give it another go. God tells Ezekiel to tell the bones that the breath comes from God and God is breathing new life into them.  And it works. 

I love this version of the story from  The Message Bible. Give it a read:
Ezekiel in The Message

Here's some background:  Starting around 597 BCE, the Jewish people in the southern kingdom of Judah were invaded by the army of the Babylon Empire. Many of the leaders were taken into captivity, including Ezekiel who was a priest. They were far from their homeland and from the center of their faith in Jerusalem. They felt cut off and far from God. Kinda like we feel right now, only it's a virus and not a Babylonian army that's keeping us to "distancing."  So think about Simba in the scary place with all the animal bones in "The Lion King." That's what Ezekiel seeks in his vision. 

Like the dry bones, we are all feeling hopeless and cut off from our friends and family and doing the things that we enjoy. 

The bones come together and are covered with skin after Ezekiel speaks to them. But they are still lifeless.  It's the breath  -  the spirit of God that makes them truly alive.  It was breathed into the first humans in the garden in Genesis. The same breath was breathed into Lazarus and the Holy Spirit was breathed into  Jesus at his baptism and when he was crucified. The Holy Spirit was present to the disciples at Pentecost. 

The breath of God, the Holy Spirit, moves through the world giving us new life and hope when the odds are against us. This story of Ezekiel's vision in the valley of the dry bones is exactly what I need to hear this week as we are all stuck inside. When we find our struggling and needing some air - God breathes into us new life.  This story from the Bible offers us a symbol of hope. We can rely on God's spirit to comfort us when we feel lifeless and renew us when we feel hopeless. 

Have you ever practiced a breath prayer? A breath prayer is a two-phrase prayer that you recite while you are breathing in and out.  "Holy Spirit/fill my life" or "Be still/and know God" are examples that I often use.  Give it a try? 

I hope this story will help remind you that if God can make dry bones live again - then God can make something good out of the hard things we are going through now.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

March 29/2020 - Sunday School Lesson

Our Sunday school lesson for this week is Ezekiel 37: 1-14

We will hear the story of the dry bones and praise the power of God's Love. 

Some highlights from the lesson plan:

Play Dominoes - The earliest dominoes were made from Ivory or bone so some people called this game "bones." The group of dominoes that players draw from is called "the graveyard."

Make Shakers - Use plastic Easter eggs and fill them with beads, seeds, or gravel. Tape them closed to make a rhythm instrument. Use them with the percussion poem (resource sheet #2 in the lesson plan.)

Plant Some Seeds - Growing plants are a symbol of the death-to-life theme of Ezekiel's vision. Gather some paper cups or small potting soil or some flower vegetable seeds and get a start on your garden. 

Sing - 'The Whole World"
(Words below - sing to the tune of "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands").

Lenten Table - Set a Lenten table to count days the weeks until Easter (See resource sheet below.) 

Sunday School Lesson - March 29

Note: Our Sunday school lesson is from the 2020 Feasting on the Word curriculum published  by Westminster John Knox Press and is posted here for family home use only, 

Staying Connected - March 2020

“This feels hard because it is hard.”
This sentence has stuck with me this week as we go about trying to navigate the world from our homes and in front of our computers.  I was doing well last week keeping up with a lot of you through Facebook, texting, and email.  We used the Zoom platform to hold Bible study and youth group. But then Sunday rolled around and we were not physically together. I had taken a week off the earlier in the month so it was the third Sunday for me to not travel into the city for church.  Throughout the morning I kept looking at the clock and thinking, “We would be in Sunday school right now” or “it’s time for coffee hour.” So, like probably all of you, I am missing our church family and wishing we could be together.

“This feels hard because it is hard,” wrote a pastor in a blog post on the Building Faith website. Technology is wonderful but it’s still not the same as being with our church community to worship, learn, and play together. I’ve been thinking about all the things that we would be preparing for in the usual way in the coming week like Palm Sunday, Easter worship, our Easter hunt in Sunday school, and the family retreat that is scheduled for May 9-10.  The planning for these things is in a holding pattern for now as we, well, wait and see.  As I write this, I am communicating with Camp Crestfield to find out what our options for the family retreat and I will keep you posted.  Tom Petty wasn’t joking when we wrote the song lyrics “The waiting is the hardest part.”

But what is giving me hope? It’s all of you! I love seeing and hearing about all the ways you have been finding to be creative at home and connect with each other in these frustrating times.  You are all in my thoughts and prayers as we are taking things week by week.  
I know that as we all adjust into new routines, managing working from home, school closures, and social distancing and staying at home, you are most likely bombarded and overwhelmed with information and resources.  I want to keep it simple and don't want to add to the abundance of online/virtual stuff out there. 

Here are the ways that we can continue to "do church” together in the coming weeks: 

You can participate in worship by visiting our church website. We will be posting the Sunday bulletin which will include liturgy, scripture readings, hymns, audio recordings of the sermon and various parts of the liturgy, and a video of our Time for Children.
Some ideas for worshiping at home with your young people:

·   Light some candles!  – This is an important and popular part of our worship service and you can recreate this at home. Take a pause with your family light candles together and talk about the things that you are praying for.
·       Sing! – the online worship includes the hymns for the week. Or just gather together and sing your favorites.
·       Read the scriptures. Grab a Bible and read the scriptures out loud together. For younger kids use a story Bible is you have one. If you don’t have a story Bible, some of my favorite story Bibles are available on Kindle to download. Here are a few suggestions:

Growing in God's Love: A Story Bible Kindle Edition by Elizabeth F. Caldwell and  Carol A              Wehrheim

Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name Kindle Edition by Sally LloydJones 

365 Read-Aloud Bedtime Bible Stories  by Daniel Partner and Kathy Arbuckle


I will be using this blog as a place to post and share information. Weekly Sunday school lessons for grades 1-6 will be posted each week if you would like to do them at home with your family. The lesson plans contain a narrative version of the weekly passages, background on the passages, and activities and questions for responding to the story. I will also be posting other resources, information, and ideas on how we can stay connected as a church family. 

Youth Fellowship will continue to happen at our usual time, 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, virtually through Zoom. I will be sending out the meeting link weekly via email. 

The weekly Wednesday Adult Bible study will be held through the video conferencing app/site called Zoom. If you would like to participate please send an email to the church office and we will send you the link to the scheduled zoom meeting. 

Stay in touch! I am always available and want to hear from you! If you are a Facebook user join the Friends of Sixth Presbyterian Church group for more info as well.  Please share! If you have resources, games or activities that have been helping you get through this time please pass your ideas along and I will share them with others.

Let me know what I can do to support you in the coming weeks. I am available for via email, phone calls or texting, Face Time and online chats! Want me to read a story to your kids? Or to say hello!  I’d love to hear from you.   

How to reach me:
Jenny Newman
(412) 720-6392

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Illustrated Ministry - Time to Color!

The wonderful folks at Illustrated Ministry are sharing free resources with churches.  I have enjoyed this using this coloring sheet for a time of prayer and meditation. Give it a try! 

Some things to ponder while you are coloring: 
  • What is God calling me to do, or not do, right now?
  • Who is God calling me to be?
  • What name is it that God calls me?

Provided by Illustrated Ministry: www.

March 22/2020 - Sunday School Lesson

Our Sunday school lesson for this week is 1 Samuel 16: 1-13

We will hear how God chose David and consider how God chooses us to serve. 

Sunday school lesson for March 22

Note: Our Sunday school lesson is from the 2020 Feasting on the Word curriculum published  by Westminster John Knox Press and is posted here for family home use only, 

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Refections for Youth - Jesus, Living Waters, and the Samaritan Woman

Wow! So here we all are - learning about all the things that are canceled for the immediate future. We are practicing social distancing. We are probably just starting to feel lonely and isolated because we are missing our friends and our daily routines.

I just learned that we will be canceling church and all church activities for the next three weeks and I am thinking about all the people that I will miss and all the people that may feel alone and isolated.

This week's scripture from the Gospel of John is about a woman who, I am sure, felt the same way.  Isolated and alone - cut off from the community.

The first thing you need to know about this story is that Jews and Samaritans were not exactly besties.  So there's that. The woman was an outcast to the Jewish people because of where she lived and was from. Also, the woman meets Jesus at the well at noon, the heat of the day.

The places that Jesus lived and traveled are in desert nations where water is a precious resource. Cities and towns were built up around water wells. You couldn’t just turn on the kitchen faucet and pour a glass of water. For women, part of their daily work was to draw water from the well.  The women would head to the well early in the morning to get all the water that would be needed for the family for the day.  Water for bathing, drinking, cooking, and for the animals. Going to the well in the morning was also probably a time for the women to be with other women. Time to check-in, say good morning, and socialize and support each other.

The fact that the woman in this scripture is there at noon indicates that she comes to the well when she will be alone. She is an outcast. Not welcomed by the other women and wanting to avoid community.

So she heads to the well on this hot day and she meets Jesus. And he's tired and thirsty.

You know what that feels like, right? Your mouth can feel dry and icky - you might feel really hot, or tired, or have a headache.  

Remember that Jesus talked about things that everyone knew about and familiar things to teach people about God’s love. 
So when he meets the Samaritan woman he talks to her about Living Waters.

When they meet at the well Jesus asked her for a drink.
She looked at Jesus and said “Whaaat?” She probably couldn't believe that a Jewish man would talk to her in public.
She said, “Why are you asking me?"
Jesus said, “If you know who I was you would ask me for living waters.”
Now the woman was really puzzled and she pointed to the well and said ‘the well is deep and you don’t even have a jar. Where will you get this living water?”
Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this well will get thirsty again—but the water I bring lasts forever!”
The woman didn’t understand that Jesus wasn’t talking about the water you drink.  He was talking about Living Water—which is love from God that is forgiving and lasts forever.
As Jesus explained more, the woman wanted to learn more.  Jesus told her that he knew all about her—where she came from and what she believed in.  And as they talked she got a twinkle in her eye and said: "I know the Messiah is coming, I’ve heard about him.”

Jesus put his hand on her shoulder and said: “I am the Messiah” - and she was probably shocked that he touched her. It was me I for sure would have spilled my water jug.

The scripture said she was so excited that she left her water jar behind and rushed off to tell everyone about what she had seen and heard. And people listen to her and came to see Jesus.

How you would feel if Jesus talked to you and already knew everything about you?

Here are some other questions to think about this week:
  • How does it feel to be thirsty? Does it feel a little like when you are feeling lonely and isolated? Doctors say that if we are feeling thirsty we are already dehydrated. What ways can you reach out to people to not feel so alone?
  • In what ways does God transform people today?
  • From what and into what are you being transformed by God?
  • How can you reach out to someone that may be feeling thirsty, alone, and isolated?
  • If you met Jesus at the well, what would you ask him? What would you tell him?
  • What, based on what you know about Jesus from the Bible, would you tell others about him?

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

What We Are Reading - March 2020

Here are a few of the books we are reading this month during Extended Session. 

All books are available for borrowing from the Carnegie Library! 

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Dem bones

by Bob Barner

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I'll love you till the cows come home

by Kathryn Cristaldi

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If a chicken stayed for supper

by Carrie Weston 

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Let it shine

by Maryann Cocca-Leffler

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Oh no, George!

by Chris Haughton

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Benji, the bad day, and me

by Sally J. Pla 

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What do you do with a problem?

by Kobi Yamada 

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Reflections for Youth - Jesus, Nicodemus, and John 3:16

I do some of my best thinking and sometimes get the best ideas in the middle of the night.  But the middle of the night is also when I do the most worrying and have the most questions.

I think Nicodemus was the same way. Nicodemus was a Pharisee (Jewish folks who believed in strict adherence and interpretation of the law).  He had a lot of questions so we went to see Jesus in the middle of the night. 

Read John 3: 1-17

Nicodemus was a leader. In the passage, Jesus refers to him as a "teacher of Israel." So, maybe his late-night visit was because he didn't want anyone to see him talking to Jesus. But I think maybe his questions were keeping him up at night so he decided to find some answers.

But, first things first. This is the story in scripture that contains the verse that is probably the most widely-known known and recited.  Verse 16: "“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."

This is a well-known stand-alone passage.  Someone could argue that this passage is really all you need to know. For many Christians, The whole Gospel can be summarized into these worlds.  We've all seen the folks at sporting events with their "John 3:16" signs.  Some athletes literally wear these chapter and verse numbers as an outward declaration of what they believe. But,  I wonder how many of them remember or realize that this passage comes from a conversation where Jesus is teaching a questioning Pharisee.

In this scripture story, Nicodemus wants to know why Jesus can do all these amazing things.  He calls him "Rabbi" (which means teacher) and acknowledges that no one could do the things that Jesus has done unless they were connected to God.  Jesus tells Nicodemus about being led by God’s Holy Spirit. And he tells him that being truly lead by the Holy Spirit is like starting over.  He talks about being "born from above."  He's talking about at looking at things in a different way and starting at the beginning again - like a newborn baby who has to learn all the things.

It's like when you are building a tower with blocks or LEGOS. Perhaps Jesus is telling Nicodemus that he has to have God at the base of his tower to keep it from tipping over so much. Being "born from above" or being born again means to knock down your tower and build it again while listening to God.

This is a passage that sometimes freaks many of us Presbyterians out a little bit. More evangelical folks talk interpret the verses in this passage to reinforce the idea that you must be 'saved" or "born again" and believe in Jesus to have eternal life - or get into heaven. That's one way to look at it. But I think maybe Jesus is talking about how when we recognize what God is doing in the world and what God is doing in our lives, things might look a lot different.

"Some Christians, however, understand faith or 'believing in Jesus' to be simply what one does with one's mind. In John's Gospel, being born from above and believing in Jesus are clearly not so much about what one does with one's mind as about what one does with one's heart and one's life," says George W. Stroup's "Theological Perspectives."

Believing and doing go together in John's Gospel.
Rebuilding, changing, and transforming our towers while listening to God.

Maybe being "born from above" means that when we learn from Jesus how to pay attention to God, some things are probably going to be different in our lives. Listening to God will help us to do some of the same things that Jesus did and perhaps Nicodemus wanted to do. Things like forgiving and sharing God's love.

I know, I used a whole lot of maybes.  But it's something to think about in the middle of the night - right?

Change - transformation is scary.  It's not fun to start over on building a new tower when we have worked so hard on the first one.

But, what if we, like Jesus, tells Nicodemus,  trust God to help us rebuild when we have questions or when our towers are tipping?
Maybe our towers will be better than before.

Questions to think about:

  • What keeps you awake in the middle of the night?
  • What are your questions for Jesus in this moment of your life right now?
  • When you have really important questions, who do you ask? 
  • In what ways does Jesus answer and not answer Nicodemus' question? 
  • What do you think being "born from above" means?