Sermon on the Sidewalk

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

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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:

IMG_7518In Practice

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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Their baptism should have been called to their minds again and again, and their faith constantly awakened and nourished. For just as the truth of this divine promise, once pronounced over us, continues until death, so our faith in it ought never to cease, but to be nourished and strengthened until death by the continual remembrance of this promise made to us in baptism. For the truth of the promise once made remains steadfast, always ready to receive us back with open arms when we return. LW 36:59

Carolyn Rondthaler's Labyrinth 1 My Journey

A labyrinth isn’t a maze. There is no map. Just one path from beginning to end and back again. It meets us where we are and invites us on a journey. We return to the same place we started but different.

Sounds a little like the Christian faith and our own personal journeys, from the ashes of our human condition to the hope we have in the resurrection. In last year’s Easter message, Bishop Hanson shared, “The risen Christ goes ahead of us … so that we can embrace life’s complexities and uncertainties with a living, daring confidence in God’s grace.” This has also been my experience of the labyrinth.

I’ve been asked to create a labyrinth with families who have kids in grades 6-12 during a Lenten retreat. Together we’re going to learn the difference between a maze and a labyrinth; explore the idea of creating a labyrinth that takes us on a journey beginning with God’s gift of baptism; and have fun getting to know one another while painting and walking a one-of-a-kind hand painted 20 x 20 labyrinth we can experience for years to come!

I like the idea of a labyrinth we get to create together; one that awakens, nourishes and connects us together in faith. Martin Luther reminds me to say the words “I am baptized,” rather than “I was baptized.” There are many different types of labyrinths and different ways of experiencing each one. During our time together I’ll share some of these with the group. The intention though is that this labyrinth-making experience will remind participants of God’s steadfast promise and offer a new tool for “walking wet” every day.

Everyone will get a copy of our completed labyrinth design in the form of a finger labyrinth. The nice thing about a finger labyrinth (also called “troy stones” when they’re carved out of wood, sculpted from clay or sewn using fabric) is that it can be experienced almost anytime and anywhere. Labyrinths printed on paper can be filled with mindful messages or meditations, colored or painted, similar to Carolyn Rondthaler’s amazing art pictured above.

There are many excellent online labyrinth locators, labyrinths available for purchase and creative ideas for making your own labyrinth. The Labyrinth Society has 2 labyrinths on their website you can download and print from home: Classical Labyrinth and Chartres Labyrinth

I’m excited to be able to share a video of our community and “almost” completed labyrinth making experience. Have you ever thought of creating your own labyrinth as part of a confirmation retreat? You might want to! ECLC Retreat: Labyrinth Making Video!

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But just as sure as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.” Silas, Timothy and I preached to you about the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Our message did not say “Yes” and “No” at the same time. The message of Christ has always been “Yes.” God has made a great many promises. They are all “Yes” because of what Christ has done (2 Corinthians 1.18-20).

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The world is filled with the word No.

The award-winning book, “No, David!” is a collection of the talented author-illustrator, David Shannon, doing things he was not supposed to do as a child. Like most of us he made messes, mistakes and over-indulged. It’s a book we can all relate to, especially our five-year-old selves. Inside the jacket cover, David writes, “Now David is all grown up. But some things never change…”

Indeed, some things never change.

No, I can’t always protect my children from people or things that might harm them. No, I can’t be unaffected by crime or poverty, global warming or war, illness or death. No, I don’t always make the right choices. Some days it seems I make a lot of wrong ones. Lent reminds me of that.

But Lent also reminds me why as a child of God I cling to God’s Little Easters (Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter, not considered part of the 40 days of Lent). Of course I’d love to only do good things; to be all good for all people; to be the perfect mother, daughter, sister, granddaughter, aunt, neighbor, minister, teacher, wife and friend. But perfection is not mine to do or to have. Of course that doesn’t mean I still don’t try. I do.

no_davidMBut Christ is the One in whom all God’s promises find their perfect response. The message of Christ is the reconciliation and forgiveness of the world. It is Christ’s Yes that keeps me faithful; transforming the life I’ve been given so it can be a Yes to others.

Instructions:

Read David Shannon’s book together. Talk about where the word No shows up most often in your family and for each person. Often times the word No protects us and keeps us safe. Other times it fills us with shame, guilt or fear. Why is the message of Christ’s Yes so important?

Read 2 Corinthians 1:18-20.

Point out that in both the Bible story and in David’s picture book, Yes shows up as an undeserved, unearned gift in the form of love, reconciliation and forgiveness. That is what it means to live in the Yes; to bear witness to God’s Yes for the world by offering a life of surrendered love for God and one another, the Word made flesh in us.

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