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Cheating at Changing (and Chocolate)

Year A – Proper 9 – 5th Sunday after Pentecost

Gospel Reading: Matthew 11:18-19 New Living Translation (NLT) 18 For John didn’t spend his time eating and drinking, and you say, ‘He’s possessed by a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man, on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’ But wisdom is shown to be right by its results.”

Have you ever met someone who says they want to change and get better, but then when you try to help them change… it turns out they really don’t want to change after all? Here’s an example: Let’s say that I tell you I really want to change my eating habits. I don’t want to eat so much sugar. I know it’s bad for me, and I know that I especially eat too much chocolate. So I say, “Please help me change by not buying any more sweet things, and especially no more chocolate. It’s too hard to resist.” Then the next day, I start looking through all the cupboards for a snack, and I can’t find any chocolate. So I complain, “Where’s all the chocolate? Why didn’t you buy any chocolate? Why are you being so mean?”

Now, that may sound silly, but believe me it does happen. But do you think that makes sense? How would you handle that? The person who wants chocolate may be saying that they want to change, but deep down, they really don’t want to change. And they are even trying to blame this problem on someone else.

Pharisees accused Jesus of eating and drinking with sinners.

This story about chocolate is just an example of how people can act. But Jesus saw people doing kind of the same thing when he was preaching here on earth. In Matthew 11, verses 18 through 19, Jesus says, “John (the Baptist) didn’t spend his time eating and drinking, and you say, ‘He’s possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man, (that’s Jesus) on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’ “ Jesus was pointing out that the people who should have been listening to God – through the words of John the Baptist and through the life example of Jesus – those people who needed to change on the inside, did not really want to change. They just wanted to find excuses for not changing their bad behavior. They wanted to look like they loved God, without really acting like they loved God.

After saying this, Jesus adds, “Wisdom is shown to be right by its results.” In other words, your life and the choices you make will show to the world whether you are following God or not. Jesus doesn’t want us to make excuses for not loving certain people. He doesn’t want excuses for us saying mean things to others. Jesus wants us to really want to change, and to let the Holy Spirit make us more like Jesus.

Prayer: Help us to stop making excuses for bad behavior, dear Lord. Please open our hearts and help us to be kind to everyone, especially to those who are having a hard time in life. Help us to be loving and to share God’s love in all that we do and say.

The Wages of Sin

Baabara the Sheep wants a job, but first she has to learn about wages. Grudge the Rat wants an easy job for lots of money. It’s best to find out the wages of the work before you agree to do the job. A hard but healthy job with a good wage is better than an easy, destructive job with a deadly wage. Romans 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Be careful of what you are working to earn!

What Are the Wages?

Year A – Proper 8 – June 28, 4th Sunday after Pentecost

Romans 6:20 – 23 “In those days when you were slaves of sin you didn’t bother much with goodness. And what was the result? Evidently not good, since you are ashamed now even to think about those things you used to do, for all of them end in eternal doom. But now you are free from the power of sin and are slaves of God, and his benefits to you include holiness and everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (TLB)

Do you know what wages are? Wages are what you get paid for doing a job. If you are hired to pick apples for a farmer for one day, then what you get paid at the end that day is your wages. You would probably hope to be paid a fair wage for working hard. And usually, you would know ahead of time what your wages will be before you spend a whole day working, right?

Painting by Charles Burton Barber

Let’s pretend that you have the chance to work in a farmer’s apple orchard. There are two jobs available. One is being offered by the farmer. That job is to work all day long picking apples, carefully putting the apples in baskets and loading the baskets on a truck. The farmer even wants you to look for good apples that have fallen on the ground. Those can also be used to make yummy apple pies. Does that sound like a good job?

Now pretend that there is another job available. This job is being offered by someone who lives near the farmer, but as far as you can tell, this person does not own the farm. This job does sound kind of fun though. You get to carry a bat or a golf club and whenever you see an apple on the ground, you get to hit it hard and send it sailing through the air. You don’t have to pick up any apples, you just get to whack at them. Does that sound like a fun job?

Before you agree to do either of these jobs, you should make sure that you know what the wages are. The payment for the first job, is 100 dollars for a full days work, plus you get to take home a fresh-baked apple pie. The wages for the second job is a basket full of rotten, poisoned apples. And before you go home, you will be forced to eat at least one poisoned apple. As a result, you might die.

Now, which job do you think you would choose? Most people would, of course, choose the first job. It may be hard work, and not as much fun as smacking apples with a stick, but the wages are much better than the second job. Once you know what the wages are, it’s easy to choose.

Romans chapter 6 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” God wants us to live a good and productive life. He wants us to fill our baskets with good things to help other people. It may be hard work, but it’s good work. God is offering us a life of doing the right thing and being happy because we are being helpers. At the end of our lives, living for Jesus, God wants to welcome us into heaven. Eternal life is what God wants to give to all of us. But we get to decide our path. Do we follow Jesus? Or do we turn away from Jesus? Let’s pray that we all choose eternal life.

Prayer: Dear Lord, help us to turn away from things that hurt others or that hurt your creation. Help us to choose to do the right thing and to follow Jesus. Thank you for your gift of eternal life.

Father’s Day – A Higher Love

Baabara the sheep asks about a difficult Bible verse in Matthew chapter 10 where Jesus tells his followers, “Those who love their father or mother more than me are not fit to be my disciples.” We love our fathers, but should we love them more than God. What is the highest love?

A Higher Love

Year A – Proper 7 – Matthew 10:24-39

“Father and Son” by Shai Yossef – Click link to purchase art

You might think that today’s Gospel lesson is a bit strange to be the reading for the Sunday that happens to be Father’s Day. Today we honor fathers and we remember that the Bible often refers to God as our Father. In the Lord’s Prayer, we say “Our Father, who art in heaven,” or “Dear Father in heaven, may your name be holy.” And we know that one of the ten commandments is to honor your father and mother so that you may live a long and happy life.

But in Matthew, chapter 10, Jesus says to his disciples, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me…” Yes, we are meant to love our fathers, but we are not meant to love them more than we love Jesus. This also says that fathers are not supposed to love their children more than they love God. Why does Jesus say this? Family love is so important. 

“Two” by Shai Jossef – Click link to purchase art

This is a message about priorities. When one thing is more important than another, it has a higher priority. Here is an example of a higher priority. Let’s say you were walking near a waterfall with a friend, and you were holding a favorite toy in one hand, and you both slipped. Imagine that you were hanging onto the railing with one hand, and your favorite toy in your other hand and there was your friend next to you about to fall. Imagine you could save them by grabbing onto them quick. Wouldn’t you drop that toy in order to save your friend’s life? Your friend is more important than your toy! A toy can be replaced. A friend is more precious than a toy. People should always be a higher priority than things.

Jesus is not saying that a father should not love and protect and take care of his children. Of course that is what a father should do. But if a father loves his child more than he loves God, then that is a problem. When God becomes less important than other people or other things in our lives, then we start to make wrong decisions and we start to lose our way.

If love for God is the highest love in your heart, everything falls into place. God’s love helps you love and care for others. God’s love keeps you from making selfish decisions. God’s love helps you love your family and friends in the right way, a way that does not hurt others in the process. Jesus knew how family can sometimes seem more important than God, and so he told his disciples this important truth. May we always put God first in our lives. Blessings will follow.

Prayer: Dear Lord, Thank you for our fathers and thank you for our families. Help us to love them, but help us remember to always keep our love for you as the highest love in our hearts.

As Sheep Among Wolves

“What does that mean, ‘Sheep among wolves?” Baabara asks about a Bible verse in Matthew. Loupy the Wolf wants to know about it too. Why would Jesus send disciples into a dangerous situation, when he is the Good Shepherd? And who is a “wolf” anyways? Join Baabara and Loupy as they talk about God’s love and protection.

Facing the Wolves

Year A – Revised Common Lectionary – Proper 6 – June 14, 2020

Scriptures: Matthew 9:35-10:8(9-23)

If a sheep went up against a wolf in a battle out in the wilderness, who would probably win? One of the animals is a predator with sharp teeth and the other has no natural defenses besides the ability to see a predator sneaking up from behind and the ability to run away.

But what if a sheep under the protection of a shepherd with a long sturdy staff went up against a wolf in a battle? The sheep protected by a shepherd has a much better chance of surviving. Jesus is often called the Good Shepherd and for very good reasons.

Matthew 9:35 says, “When (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus was sent to us to help us, to protect us and guide us to a place of safety and joy. Jesus came to be our shepherd.

In Matthew’s Gospel, we also hear Jesus telling his disciples that he is sending them out to tell people about God’s love and forgiveness. But he says something that probably scared his disciples. He said, “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves.” That does not sound very safe. A sheep surrounded by wolves is not in a happy place. I wonder if the disciples thought that perhaps they should bring along some weapons to protect themselves.

Jesus is saying two things to his followers. One seems comforting and reassuring. Jesus sees the lost people and he has compassion on them. He can see that they need a shepherd. The other seems a bit scary and challenging. Jesus is sending out his disciples like sheep among the wolves. Both are true. What we need to remember is that it is Jesus saying both of these things. And Jesus is and will always be the Good Shepherd.

Yes, the world can be a dangerous place. We have to be careful and watch for wolves or bad people who want to take advantage of us, or harm us. But we are being sent out by Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who will never leave us and who is with us in every situation, both peaceful and dangerous.

Our Good Shepherd loved us so much, that he laid his own life down for us. Jesus died for us to take away the burden of our sin. He died to bring us back into a loving relationship with God. Jesus battled something more dangerous than wolves in order to protect us, the sheep of his pasture. Jesus battled death and he won. Jesus brings to us the promise of life eternal, never to be separated from God, ever again. We can face the wolves of this life, with Jesus by our side.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, Thank you for being our Good Shepherd and for always being with us to protect us from harm. Help us to be alert and careful, but always brave enough to tell others about your love. Amen.

Trinity Sunday and Family

Baabara has questions about the Holy Trinity. Do God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit treat each other well? What does it mean to be three-in-one? If God is the Father of us all, how should we treat each other? And when is a good time to read Winnie-the-Pooh?

Three in One – Trinity

A Children’s Sermon for the first Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday – RCL Year A

Scriptures: Matthew 28:16-20 and 2 Corinthians 13:11-13

Today is the first Sunday after Pentecost. It is also called “Trinity Sunday.” This is a Sunday when we remember that God is three persons in one God. Throughout history, humans have struggled with this idea, and some have even started new religions because they could not understand how God could be One being and Three persons at the same time. Just because we cannot understand some things, does not mean that they are not true. The world is full of mysteries. Science has solved many mysteries, that is true, but still the world and the universe are full of mysteries.

Guido Reni (Italian, Bologna 1575–1642 Bologna) Christ on the Cross with God in Heaven, Italian, etching; sheet: 16 3/4 x 10 1/4 in. (42.5 x 26 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1967 (67.809.39) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/397051

Before Jesus returned to God the Father in heaven, he told his followers to go and baptize people who came to believe in Christ. He said, “Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” When you see a baptism, you will notice that the pastor says these words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” God is three in one.

Saint Patrick, a Christian who lived many years ago was said to have explained the Trinity by using a shamrock, a plant with three leaves on one stem. Sometimes the three forms of water are used to help us understand the Trinity: ice, liquid water and steam are all H2O, water. But they appear in different forms.

I think that your family might be one way to help us understand the Trinity. Think about your mommy and tell me if she has a mommy of her own? (Children can answer here.) Your mommy is also a daughter, right? She is a mommy and a daughter at the same time. If she has brothers or sisters (also called siblings), she is also a sister. You see her as a mommy. Your grandma sees her as a daughter. And her siblings see her as a sister. She is just one person, but she is called three different names.

But the most important thing about a mommy is not what she is called. It’s how much she loves you. It’s the same with God. In 2 Corinthians 13, one of the readings for today, the Bible says, “Live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” God wants us to live in peace with one another and to love each other. We are all children of our heavenly Father. Jesus came to earth to bring that message. We are part of our own families, but we are connected to each other as well. “Live in peace,” says the Bible. And that verse ends with a Trinity blessing: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God (the Father), and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

Prayer: Dear Father in heaven, thank you for loving us. Thank you for sending Jesus as a message of peace. May the Holy Spirit help us to love each other and live at peace with our neighbors, welcoming them into the family of God.

Baabara and the Language of Love

It’s Pentecost, and she’s wearing her red scarf in honor of the day, but Baabara the Sheep is gloomy. She cannot talk about God’s love in many languages. She wishes that she could speak fluent Japanese to the kids in the orphanages in Japan where she teaches English. She wants them to know how much she loves them. But isn’t she already fluent in the “Language of Love?”

(Permission granted to include this video children’s message in online Sunday services.)

See JOEE.jp for more information about the nonprofit that brings free English lessons to children in institutionalized care in Japan.

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