Sermon on the Sidewalk

Colorful real-life stories of kids, family and an extraordinarily ordinary, everyday kind of faith.

To pray for our loved ones is, as C.S. Lewis once said, a “sweet duty.”

IMG_8020Easter and candy go together like rama lama lama ke ding a de dinga a dong! Healthy snacks rule, but I’m not above sharing jelly beans or other sweet treats when they create opportunities to engage kids in conversations of prayer. Lenten Sacrifice Beans turned Alleluia Beans turned conversation and prayers.

We don’t find Jesus because we look in a grave or even on a cross. Jesus comes to us. In the water, in the bread, in the wine. Together at the table, we see Jesus in one another. With 50 Official Jelly Belly flavors and 50 days of Easter, Jelly Belly Prayers have become a seasonal favorite, and a simple way to invite children into the resurrection life. We are Easter people, after all!

Taste and See

Kids can count on numbers. Numbers are concrete. Why does Lent have 40 days and Easter have 50? Why don’t we count Sundays as part of our 40 day Lenten journey? Lent has 40 days and Easter gets 50. Resurrection trumps crucifixion, Easter outshines Lent. Life conquers death. Every Sunday is celebrated as a little Easter. I love how the seasons of the church year invite kids and families into healthy rhythms of being the church.

This year, during the 50 days of Easter, why not invite kids and families to use the attached Jelly Belly Prayer Prompt PDF. It introduces A.C.T.S. prayer (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication), encourages conversation and prayer, and is sweet fun!

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I look at your heavens, which you made with your fingers. I see the moon and stars, which you created. But why are people even important to you? Why do you take care of human begins? You made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor (Psalm 8:3-5 NCV).

Key Messages Exercise

Key Messages Exercise

“Sexuality is a good and wondrous gift, a rich and diverse combination of relational, emotional, and physical interactions and possibilities.” In partnership with families, ECLC works to “protect and nurture children and youth and provide for their appropriate development,” including “how children and youth are supported and accompanied in their sexual and relational formation” (Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust, a social statement of the ELCA).

Raising sexually healthy children requires a combination of strong relationships, open communication and clear messages regarding values and expectations between parent and child. The church can be a great place to discuss human relationships, sex, and sexuality within the context of Jesus’ invitation to love God, our neighbors and ourselves.

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What is the difference between sex and sexuality? How do the sexual images, message, information and disinformation in media and popular culture impact our beliefs and behaviors regarding sex, sexuality and relationships? How does a black-and-white understanding of biological sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, and sexual behavior fall short of God’s created goodness? Why do we sometimes think very little of ourselves when God loves and values us above all else in creation? These are some of the questions explored together by ECLC confirmation youth, parents and presenters every three years, during the full-day sexuality treat.

IMG_7881Sexuality encompasses nearly every aspect of our being, from attitudes and values to feelings and experiences. It is influenced by the individual, family, culture, religion/spirituality, laws, professions, institutions, science and politics. In addition to being a safe place for discerning how to live faithfully in a complex world, retreats provide confirmands and parents with opportunities to learn new and better ways to be in relationship with one another, and to communicate what can sometimes be awkward, uncomfortable, or challenging topics.

Resources

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Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples. —Luke 11:1

IMG_7503If you’re a fan of comic books or superheroes you might visit the Superhero Database. This entertaining collection of favorite (and not so favorite) superheroes, villains, and superpowers is worth a look, but Jesus is missing. So are other superheroes of faith, like Abraham, Joseph, David, and Esther. You’re name isn’t there. Neither is mine. And there’s no mention of God’s powerful gift of prayer.

Last summer I read a post by Sam Williamson, introducing his book, “I Wonder If Sunday School is Destroying Our Kids.” Williamson zeros in on something he calls the “counterfeit gospel of pack-mule-moralism.” The article went into my urgent file. Not because what’s in the article is news to me, but because it’s news to so many. “The Wonder of the gospel is not the love of the beautiful; it’s when Beauty kisses the Beast.” We come as we are to church. God loves us as God’s perfectly imperfect creation. We’re all superheroes, transformed by God’s radical love, and gifted with super powers of prayer.

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Super Powers of Prayer

Like many thriving congregations, Edina Community Lutheran provides milestone opportunities for grafting children into the life of the church; encouraging families to keep the promises of baptism. This month’s faith milestone is an opportunity for kids and families to explore the wonder of the gospel and the super powers of prayer. Together, we string prayer beads, write the prayers for the day, and experience different ways to pray, including a superhero prayer that teaches:

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Introduce families to contemplative prayer. Some may already be familiar with the rosary, or other practices of using beaded strings or tied knots. Anglican prayer beads are a wonderful tool for kids and adults, inviting all ages of prayers into real-life encounters with God; keeping our hands busy and our hearts and minds focused. I recommend using large colorful beads and tipped beading cord for kids:

  1. Prepare kits that include our superhero prayer beads (PDF) guide and (1) cross-shaped bead, (1) large invitatory bead, (4) large cruciform beads, (28) medium weeks beads, and cording that can be easily beaded by children.
  2. Demonstrate how to make prayer beads, step by step: Begin by folding the cord in half and beading your cross. Next add the invitatory bead and first cruciform bead to both cords. The remaining beads are added to a single cord (half the beads on each side), securing the fourth cruciform bead by threading both ends of the cord through its middle and tying a strong knot.
  3. Teach the Sign of the Cross, Lord’s Prayer, and A.C.T.S Prayer while praying through one of the four group of weeks. There are other prayers available online at pintrest and elsewhere, to use with your Anglican prayer beads.
  4. A Super Powers of Prayer event might also integrate Super Power fun, super powers prayers, the Superman Table Prayer, and signing the Lord’s Prayer.

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Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples–when they see the love you have for each other. –John 13:34-35 The Message (MSG)

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Last night we began the Triduum with an especially child-friendly Maundy Thursday service.

We gathered for confession and absolution around the baptismal font where children dipped their fingers in the water and marked one another with the cross of Christ. We listened to the stories and got a taste of the Israelite Exodus from slavery, the quickly made unleavened bread of the Passover meal, and Jesus’ Last Supper. Dr. Suess’s Foot Book showed up somewhere too, before children and parents washed one anothers’ feet. We gathered around the table with communion bread many of the kids helped bake on Palm Sunday. Then before leaving the sanctuary in lights-dimmed silence, Psalm 22 was read from the pulpit by one fifth grader as kids of all ages silently stripped the altar… everyone being reminded how Christ walked from the meal to his suffering and death.

It was a powerful beginning to the three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil.

If you celebrate Holy Week and share in the faith journey of kids you’ve no doubt heard the questions before, “What is Maundy Thursday?” and “Why the funny name?”

Wrapped in mystery, it is usually more meaningful to answer questions about Jesus’ last days with first-hand experiences than with words alone. Experiential learning strategies tend to speak to the whole child. Readings, visual demonstrations and discussions are good, but actively engaging kids in practices of faith offers a significantly better chance it won’t be forgotten. If we involve kids in teaching what they’ve learned, that’s even better.

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What that means for Maundy Thursday is that at the very least we invite families to participate in the experience of remembering Jesus’ Last Supper, the washing of the feet of Jesus’ disciples, and Jesus’ command to love one another. That’s a lot for one day. It’s also a lot to miss.

Maundy Thursday in words:

The funny sounding word Maundy means Command. I’ve even heard it called “Mandate Thursday.”

It is on this Thursday before Easter — the night before Jesus’ death — we remember Jesus wearing a servant’s apron and washing his disciples’ feet, giving the command to love one another. It is also on this night where Jesus promises “this is my body and blood;” the radical newness in Jesus’s command to his disciples to participate in the Eucharist. This is also a night of garden prayer and swords and disciples who ran away in fear.

Maundy Thursday in practice:

I cannot imagine a better day than Maundy Thursday for kids and families to encounter the mystery of Christ’s presence given for us in the bread and wine, together with God’s Word. Invite kids and families to be a part of this very special night. And tell the stories afterwards. Make it a big deal, because it is.

For fun, in advance of Maundy Thursday, we asked one class of kids to dress up as disciples and act out Jesus’ Last Supper with the Gospels. In addition to the regular table and chairs, they were given a photocopy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper painting, 13 costumes, rolls, cups and juice to set the scene.

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Too many children go straight from the Palm Sunday parade to the Easter alleluias and totally miss what happened in between. They are conspicuously absent from Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil. So, they miss exploring the key stories of the faith on the nights when those stories have the most power. It does not have to be that way. — Carolyn

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Passports are fun. Our kids had traveler’s passports and National Parks program passports and the novelty of filling them with stamps and stickers never grew old. I’ve also given children and youth pretend passports to help get them excited about special events, steps for completing a project or as a way to collect memories.

Inspired by Carolyn’s blog and Worshiping With Children Facebook page, along with a suggestion from one of the pastors, this year I created a Holy Week Passport, inviting kids and families to participate in all of the Holy Week experience.

ECLC’s Holy Week Passport includes scripture references for each of the special days, and since our worship services are uniquely designed to be interactive and child-friendly, the stickers will actually mean something.

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The 8-page passports were so popular at the Palm Sunday Fair we nearly ran out of books and Polaroid film for the photos, even during spring break. My real hope, of course, is that the passport stickers at the Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Saturday Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday services are equally as popular.

The Palm Sunday Fair activities were great fun, with stickers for communion bread baking, palm cross folding and cross beading, labyrinth walking, resurrection eggs, sacrifice beans, a food drive and poetry party, but the best learning will happen during Holy Week services. Those are the stickers we’re hoping kids’ take home.

IMG_2787 I’m attaching a modified PDF passport template for 2014, though there are many other excellent ideas on Pinterest and elsewhere for creating your own kids passports. Also, here is a holy week passport sticker PDF using Dan Erlander’s free artwork (see the link below for more great illustrations). Additional stickers were created using photographs specific to planned activities/events.

I’ve edited out our church name, Palm Sunday Fair events and 2013 worship service times, and also added in 2014 dates so you can pretty much print, cut and assemble if you like. To keep the passports more authentically sized we trimmed them on the margins. The passport stickers were printed on Avery 1-1/2″ round #8293 and the cover on recycled card stock paper.

Because the cover is a big part of what makes the passports so awesome, you should know the design is borrowed from Dan Erlander’s free downloadable artwork and his copyright is printed on the back outside cover. During Lent we’ve been following his Manna and Mercy book, so it is a perfect fit.

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Baptized Lutheran, confirmed Catholic and serving in the church for over 20 years, I’ve folded my share of crosses on Palm Sunday.

Over the years I’ve also collected many different palm folding activity sheets for kids and families to follow, but none of them showed the way I was originally taught. So when I found a YouTube video that demonstrated what I think has always been the easiest and best way to fold palm crosses, I wanted to share it.

We have a Palm Sunday Fair coming up next weekend. Together with the YouTube video and a bowl filled with sample crosses, the pictures will make it easier for everyone to participate in this fun and long-held tradition. Folding palms is a meaningful way to participate in the Easter story and Jesus’ welcome into Jerusalem.

There’s a blizzard outside today, so the “green grass” smell of fresh palm leaves has been both a blessing and a joy.

Let me know if you think you have an easier or better way, or if you find this post helpful in your own ministry at church or at home.

7 Easy-Step Instructions:

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Step 1. Trim a single palm at both ends

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Step 2. Fold the palm in half and cut into two pieces

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Step 3. Fold one piece over the other 3 times

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Step 4. Fold the piece you just folded over once

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Step 5. Insert the wider of your two pieces through the center and pull tight to form a 90 degree angle

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Step 6. To make the horizontal length of the cross, insert one side at a time through the center and adjust

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Step 7. To make the vertical length of the cross, insert the remaining piece through the center and adjust

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One way to remember the 7 steps is:

cut, cut / fold in half / cut the half

fold 3 / fold 1 / lock

horizontal 1, 2

vertical

+

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Faith formation is seeing ourselves as part of the faith story and knowing ourselves as part of the body of Christ. To begin, we invite a return to the sources of the church’s life, the means of grace. Celebrating the sacramental life of the church, gathering together around the font and the table, hearing, reading, singing the weekly texts, all within the rich framework of the seasons and cycles of the church year–form the foundation on which to build … The goal is a rich and multi-layered faith enabling us to encounter God in each other and in all of life. –Julie K. Aageson

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“Christian education doesn’t begin or end with Sunday School.” This is most of what I wanted to say, dropping in for just a minute to our Adult Forum on Faith Formation. Some people may find this curious, since Sunday School is in my job description.

Allow me to explain.

Most of my colleagues and many other respected leaders in Christian education long ago buried the idea that what happens in the classroom is enough to shape and form God’s gift of faith in kids and families to be the church, living the resurrected life. It certainly isn’t news that “the church is a living partnership between the ministry of the congregation and the ministry of the home” (Dr. David Anderson, Vibrant Faith Ministries)

The curriculum of the church is people, and baptism is our initiation into a life of being formed in faith.

Churches do not have a curriculum, they are the curriculum. –Maria Harris

In Rethinking Christian Education, Aageson reminds us, “Baptism is a very big deal.” God seals us with the Holy Spirit and marks us with the cross of Christ forever. As God’s children we are being shaped and reshaped; formed, informed and reformed through the gathered and sent community. Give almost anyone a handful of clay, a baptismal starting point and the question, “How do we form God’s gift of faith in children and families?,” and you’ll experience the metaphor of the work of Christian education come to life.

Instinctively we know what it means to be formed in faith as sure as the potter forms the clay.

kool-aid play doughSo how does the church intentionally form faithful imaginations of children and families?

Instructions: 

This exercise, inspired by the late Maria Harris and her book, Fashion Me A People: Curriculum in the Church, works best with at least 5 people. Give everyone a handful of clay, a baptismal starting point, and the question: “What is faith formation as you’ve experienced it?”

Share your experiences with one another.

Assign at least one person to each of the 5 forms and invite everyone to imagine what’s possible in shaping God’s gift of faith in children and families. Again, allow time for participants to encounter the form taking shape.

Explore everyone’s responses to the question: “How can the church shape and form faith with a curriculum of:

Didache -Teaching and Learning (More)

Leiturgia – Prayer, Liturgy and Worship (More)

Kergyma – Preaching and Proclaiming the Word of God (More)

Koinonia  – Community and Communion (More)

Diakonia – Service and Outreach (More)

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Sermon on the Sidewalk

Colorful real-life stories of kids, family and an extraordinarily ordinary, everyday kind of faith.

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