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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.

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?