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November 2020
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The Rat Who Would Be King

What are the qualities of a good and respected leader? Do they shout? Do they bully their citizens into compliance? Or are they gentle and wise? Grudge the Rat is practicing his “kingship” acceptance speech. He is determined to be a loud and bossy king… until his friend, Baabara the sheep, points out that kings aren’t elected. And respected leaders aren’t necessarily bossy. Grudge the Rat learns some valuable lessons about the often-overlooked “Fruit of the Spirit,” Gentleness.

Scripture reference: Galatians 5:22 – 23

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Oh My Goodness! A Fruit of the Spirit!

What happens to a pumpkin that has just a small bad spot on it? What is it like inside? Hamlet the pig learns about another part of the “Fruit of the Spirit,” goodness. If we ignore the little things that are bad in our hearts, we put our whole selves at risk. But what Hamlet really wants to know is… how soon can we make that pumpkin pie?! Join us in the pumpkin patch for a look at goodness. — Galatians 5:22-23

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Patience Pie and the Pig

Scripture: Galatians 5:22-23 “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” – New Living Translation

Hamlet the pig has a hankering for pie – apple pie to be precise. It’s just come out of the oven and it’s right under his nose. He’d love to dive right in, but he needs to be patient. He needs to learn about the fourth fruit of the Sprit, “patience,” and why it is so important. A little bit of patience can protect this pig from a seared snout.

Two-Faced

For Proper 21

From “Saving the Ants” by Ruth Gilmore

Matt. 21: 28 – 32  “But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. 30 Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go. “Which of the two obeyed his father?” They replied, “The first.”  TwoFaced_Janus

Preparation: Bring a couple of Halloween or theater masks that aren’t too scary.

I brought along a couple of extra faces this morning. (Put masks on briefly.) Here is one face, and here’s another. Is this really my face? No, it’s a mask, isn’t it? I don’t really have more than one face.

Have you ever heard of someone being “two-faced”? It doesn’t mean that you actually have two faces, but it means that you sometimes act in two very different or opposite ways. For example, if Jane told Mary, “I really like you, Mary. You’re my best friend,” and then later told Tom, “I don’t like Mary. She’s not my friend,” you could say that Jane is two-faced.

The Gospel lesson today, from the book of Matthew, has a story about two sons. The father tells the first son, “Son, will you go and work in the vineyard today?” and the first son replies, “i Will not.” Later, however, he decides to obey his father and he goes and worlds. The father also asks the second son to work in the vineyard and the second son answers, “I go, sir” (vv. 28 – 30 NRSV). But this son does not go at all.

Now, I’ll ask you the same question that Jesus asked his disciples after they had heard this story; which son did what his father wanted him to do? (Wait for answers.) Yes, the first son did the right thing.

Were these sons two-faced? (Wait for answers.) Yes. Both of them said one thing and did the opposite. The first son said the wrong thing and did the right thing. The second son said the right thing and did the wrong thing.

In the end, do you think it’s more important to say the right thing or to do the right thing? (Let children respond.) Actions speak louder than words. Of course, the best thing would be to both say and do the right thing.

This week, see if you can think of something you can do to show your family how much you love them. Then don’t forget to really do it!

Loving Justice

Year A – RCL – Proper 20

Scripture: Jonah 3:10-4:11

Marc Chagall’s “Jonah”

The Bible story of Jonah is a very curious one. God tells Jonah to go and talk to the people of a city where many are behaving very badly. Jonah doesn’t want to go. He’s afraid that they might hurt him if he goes there and tries to tell them to change their wicked ways. Jonah runs in the opposite direction, ends up being thrown into the ocean, swallowed by a giant whale and then he gets barfed out of the sea animal’s mouth onto the shore of Ninevah. That’s the city where God told him to go in the first place.

Jonah ends up in the exact place where he did not want to go. Now he knows for sure that he has to go tell the people of Ninevah that they need to clean up their act or else! “God is going to destroy you,” says Jonah, “unless you change your bad behavior.” After delivering his message to the bad people of Ninevah, Jonah stomps out of the city and sits down to wait for God’s anger to come down and smack those people. He wants to see the punishment that they deserve. After all, he’s been through a lot on account of those bad Ninevites. 

But Jonah does not get to see God’s anger strike down the bad people of Ninevah. Turns out, those people actually listened to what Jonah said to them. Turns out that they actually turned away from their sins and made a big change. They stopped doing bad things and turned towards God. It’s a happy day in heaven, because people who had turned away from God, now turned back to God and started to love God once more.

God loves all people. God wants everyone to turn towards love and learn to love God and to treat others well. But Jonah was not really in synch with God anymore. Jonah wasn’t thinking about how sad these people would be, or how miserable their lives had been when they were pushing God away. Jonah was thinking about himself. Jonah was angry with the whole business of being dragged over to Nineveh by God. He didn’t care if they had changed their ways. He wanted to see those people punished for what they had been doing. He wanted them punished for the bother of having been forced to preach to them. God loved the people of Ninevah, but Jonah did not love them.

Why didn’t God just punish them!? Jonah had a hard time understanding the loving justice of God. If there is any way that God can save someone, or can turn them back onto the path of love, then that is what God will do. The justice of love does not want to punish. The justice of love wants to save. God finally did manage to show Jonah that Love is the greatest part of justice. Yes, there is a consequence or a punishment for bad behavior, but love always comes first. Our Creator is a God of loving justice.

Prayer: Dear Loving Creator, Thank you for loving us and always being ready to welcome us back into your arms. Please forgive us when we turn away from you and do mean things to others. Help us to always treat others with love first, the way that you treat us. Amen.

A Pack Rat and His Grudge Collection

Grudge the Rat has a new collection but it’s not a very healthy one. He’s collecting grudges. Every time someone hurts him, he slaps a bandage on his fur to remind him to never forget and never forgive. The grudges are piling up and he’s not feeling so good. But it’s so hard to give up a grudge! What’s a poor little pack rat going to do? Can he ever learn to forgive?

Scripture Reference: Matthew 18:21 – 35

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Giving Up the Grudge

Year A – RCL – Proper 19

Scripture: Matthew 18:21-35

Once upon a time, there was a pack rat who had a large collection. He guarded his collection carefully. It had taken him a long time to build up this collection… years and years of adding to it until it was the biggest collection of its kind for miles around.

Image from MRKESSELL.COM

The trouble was, this was not a good kind of collection. It was not colorful marbles, or interesting buttons, or even stamps from around the world. This rat collected grudges. He wrote down on pieces of paper, the things that hurt him and the people who had hurt him. He kept every single note and read them over and over again, and he held a grudge against each one of those animals. He remembered how Scott the Skunk had accidentally sprayed him. He remembered how Suzy Squirrel had woken him up by dropping a nut on his head. He remembered tripping over that big lazy garter snake napping on the path. He had skinned his knee because of that snake. He held lots of grudges, so everyone called him “Grudge the Rat.” 

Grudge was not a happy rat. His collection did not make him happy. It made him mean and suspicious, because a grudge is not a good thing to collect. A grudge is the feeling of holding onto some past hurt or insult and never letting it go; never forgiving the person who hurt you. A grudge is refusing to forgive.

Forgiveness is a very important thing. Sometimes it is the only thing that can heal us or make us truly happy and content. Forgiveness is so important, that Jesus tells us we need to keep on forgiving, as many times as possible. His disciple, Peter, once asked Jesus how many times he would have to forgive a member of his congregation. He wondered if seven times was enough? Jesus said, “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Back then in that part of the world, the number seven meant complete or total or the most ever. The number that Jesus said, “Seventy-seven,” really meant that you should keep forgiving and not keep track. Jesus knew that forgiveness does not only help the person who did something wrong to you, but it also helps you heal and let go of the hurt and become happy again. 

Back to Grudge the Rat. He was not happy because he would not forgive and would not forget every little thing that anyone had ever done to him that made him mad or sad. He would not forgive. Finally, the one friend that he had left, tried to help him. “Grudge,” he said, “your collection is only making you feel sad. You need to let it go and be happy. Just try it and see what happens.” So Grudge the Rat, with the help of his one faithful and patient friend, began to throw his grudges away and forgive all the little things that had made him mad. And, sure enough, he began to feel better and better. Soon all of his grudges were gone. And he had to find a new name. His new friends are helping to find one for him. Maybe you have a good idea for a new name? (Children can share their ideas for renaming Grudge the Rat.)

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, you forgive us for all of our sins and we are thankful. Help us to forgive others. Help us to let go of any grudges that we have collected. Thank you for helping us to be content and happy and full of your love. In Jesus’ name we pray, AMEN.

Planting Mustard

Hamlet the Pig is running out of mustard, so he goes to plant more in the garden… by trying to bury a bottle of mustard. Hamlet learns a lesson about seeds and growing things, and he also learns how the kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed. God’s love in our hearts may start out small, like a seed, but it can grow so big that it helps those around us.

Can Anything Separate Us?

For a young sheep, separation anxiety can cause a bit of panic. Baabara the Sheep needs some encouraging words. Romans 8 teaches her that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Nothing Can Separate Us from the Love of God

Separation Anxiety

Year A – Proper 12

Scripture Reference: Romans 8:35 – 39

Separation – by Edvard Munch

Have you ever gotten separated from your parents? Maybe in a crowded place, you turned around and suddenly they were gone? And you looked all around, and couldn’t see them anywhere? Getting separated from the people you love can be very scary.

And right now, with a dangerous virus lurking about, we are being told to stay separated from friends and classmates. We are even supposed to stay separated from our grandparents. This is to keep them safe from the virus. Even though we want to be with them and we want to hug them close, we have to keep our distance. We can still talk to them on the phone, or by using a camera on a computer, but it’s not the same as being right there with them.

Today Bible reading is a very timely message for us. It is exactly what we need to hear right now. Being separated from those we love can make us worry. We might begin to wonder, if something might separate us from God. 

In Romans, chapter 5, the Bible lists some scary things that we might think could separate us from God: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tough times, or distress, or persecution, or times of hunger, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”

That’s a list of some things that people might be afraid of. Maybe they wonder if one of those things might pull us away from God. Can anything pull us away from our Heavenly Parent? Can something bad cause God to stop loving us?

The Bible gives a very definite answer to that question! In Romans, chapter 8, verse 37, the Bible says, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Then, in case that was not a clear enough answer, it goes on to say in verses 38 and 39, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

That’s a complete list. There is nothing on earth or even in the entire universe, that can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ. And that includes any old virus. Or any new virus. Nothing can separate us from God. Not even death.

So even if you are separated for a time from your friends, or your teachers, or your grandparents, God is always close by. God’s love is always wrapped around you. There is nothing in the universe that can separate us from God’s love.

Prayer: Dear Lord, help us trust in you when we are afraid and when we feel lonely. Thank you for always loving us and promising that we can never be separated from your everlasting love.