Music

At the start of the pandemic, we introduced a new Children’s Formation program, Love First at Home, which met online weekly until recently. In-person worship services have now resumed, including options to worship indoors, outdoors, and online!  So that families can focus on worshiping together, Love First at Home is not currently meeting online. Resources will continue to be posted weekly below, however, so that families can explore faith together at home on their own time. Choose from any or all of these simple steps that fit your family best, then select a lesson from the drop-down boxes below.

We look forward to resuming in-person Sunday School soon in our beautiful new Formation and Arts Building. Please stay tuned for details!

Centering
Choose one or several of these ideas, but consistency will be comforting for children: Several deep breaths, body prayer*, ringing a chime or bell, twenty seconds of silence.

Hearing
Read the day’s story or watch the day’s video together.

Responding
Discuss the story or video through the lens, mirror, and window of Love using the Love First Lectio handout or the provided discussion questions.

Praying
Pray together in your own words or by Praying in Color.

Praising
Watch one of our theme song videos and have a dance party!

Blessing
Bless one another.  Don’t forget to let children bless you, too!

*Body prayer: Reach arms up high and say, “I praise you God.”  Place hands on heart and say, “God, help me let your love into my heart.” Reach hands out wide and say, “God, help me to be minister to others.” Touch toes and say, “God, help me to rest.” Bring hands to a praying position and say, “Amen” followed by a deep breath.

October 18, 2020 - Love God: The Image of God

Read together Matthew 22:5-22 in your own Bible, or online here.

After telling a series of parables challenging the authority of the temple priests and Pharisees, and asserting his own God-given authority, Jesus is now challenged himself. The Pharisees hope to catch him in a clear act of treason, so that they can punish him and put an end to his movement. They ask him if it is lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, expecting him to say that nothing is owed to the emperor, but only to God. Instead, Jesus asks them whose image is on the coin and says, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

In those days, the image on the coin changed every time the leader changed. Jesus’s answer doesn’t show disobedience or disrespect to the ruler, but it does put emperor/citizen relationship in contrast to the God/human relationship. These are not the same, and should not be treated as such. This answer kept him out of trouble for the moment, but it was actually a strong response that contradicted the social assumption of the day, which was that total allegiance was due to the ruling power.

Importantly, Jesus calls attention to the “image” on the coin, and addresses what is required of the people who value that image (or live under its authority). We are meant to recall that humans are made in the “imago Dei,” the image of God.

To explore this concept, watch The Bible Project’s video Image of God.

Discuss:

  • What does it mean to you to be made in the Image of God?
  • Can you see the Image of God in others? Is it hard to see the Image of God in others sometimes?
  • If all people are made in the Image of God, what responsibilities to we have to ourselves, and to others?
  • We pay taxes as a way of taking care of each other. Taxes pay for things that everyone needs, like roads and public schools. When we pay taxes, we give back to our communities what rightly belongs to our communities. Using Jesus’s example, what belongs to God that we must give back to God?
  • If all people could honor the image of God in one another, how would the world be different?

Pray together:

Loving God, sometimes we forget that you made us, and all people, in your own image. Fill us with Jesus’s own spirit – full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, integrity, gentleness, and self-control – so that we can be people in whom your image is being restored, for the sake of the people you love. Amen.

October 4, 2020 - Love God: Ownership and Authority

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus offers another parable in response to the question, “By what authority do you do these things?”

Read together Matthew 21:33-46, or watch this video retelling of this parable (which begins with last week’s parable). (Credit: Lumo Project)

A landowner plants a vineyard, leases it to tenants, and goes away. In this kind of arrangement, the landowner generally comes back for the harvest, and the fruit that is divided between the landowner and the tenant farmers. But in this parable, the tenant farmers see an opportunity to take more than what is rightfully theirs, and they get rid of the landowner’s representatives. The landowner sends more representatives, and the same thing happens again. Then the landowner sends his son, believing that the tenant farmers would respect him. A son comes with the full authority of the father, so surely the tenant farmers would do the right thing. But they get rid of him, too.

What does this mean? The vineyard represents Israel, which is not as much a place as it is a people. A people that God has tended to over generations, as a steadfastly as a farmer tends crops, tilling the soil, and working with the plants patiently day after day to produce a harvest of good fruit, fruit like love, joy, peace, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (words Paul would use later in his letter to the Galatians). The chief priests and elders are charged with tending to the people of Israel, working with them to produce good fruit and weed out anything that would be destructive. But they have forgotten that the fruit belongs not to them, but to God. When God sends God’s own representatives, the prophets, they are ignored.

Where are we in this story? Discuss together:

  • What belongs to you?
  • Are you responsible for taking care of anything that does not belong to you?
  • Who “owns” Christ Episcopal Church in Ponte Vedra Beach?
  • Who owns the WHOLE church (all believers, everywhere, at every time)?
  • Is the church a place, or a people?
  • Who must care for the church?
  • Why is it so important for us to own things?  (Optional, watch Why Are we So Attached to Our Things, by TED-Ed.)

 

Jesus’s parable implies that the chief priests and elders had ignored the prophets, God’s representatives.  Isaiah said he was sent by the Lord to bring good news to the afflicted; to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners; Amos told the people to stop their feasts, songs, and solemn assemblies and instead to let justice flow roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream. Micah told the people to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God. But the chief priests and elders did not listen to the prophets. So the father sends the son, Jesus – believing surely he will be respected.

Discuss:

  • Why do we reject the Bible’s teachings about justice, mercy, and humility?
  • Do we respect Jesus as having the full authority of God?

This is a tough parable, but hope is not lost. In the parable, the vineyard is not destroyed, and neither therefore are the people of God. God will find people to care for the vineyard, and the vineyard will continue to produce good fruit. Jesus quoted the psalms when he said that “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, it was the Lord’s doing and it was amazing in our eyes.” Jesus knew that the father’s beloved people, the vineyard God so faithfully tends, would remain and would grow strong. Despite being thrown away, he would still be the cornerstone.

May we remember that the church belongs to God, and has been entrusted to our care. Let us remember, respect, and live by the words of the prophets, and of Jesus himself, the cornerstone. Let the Lord’s doing be amazing in our eyes. Amen.

 

October 11, 2020 - Love Self: Everyone is Invited

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus continues to challenge the temple authorities as he tells The Parable of the Wedding Banquet.  

Read together Matthew 22:1-14. Before reading, older children and adults might enjoy this video from The Bible Project. The video’ summary of the second half of Matthew’s gospel provides context for the parable.  

Jesus tells of a lavish wedding banquet. The expected guests would not come, so the king invites everyone from the streets, “good and bad,” and fills the wedding hall with those who were not initially invited.  This parable is a warning to the authorities, who have rejected Jesus. It is also an illustration of the lavish inclusivity of God — all are welcome. Hearers of this parable would know that Jesus was speaking of those who had typically been not just excluded, but despised. The only condition for their acceptance would be their “yes” in response to the invitation. This was a scandalous challenge to the customs of Jesus’s day. And it remains a challenge for us now.

Discuss together:

  • Tell each other about the best party you ever attended. What was great about it? Who was there?
  • When have you felt left out or unwelcome?  When have you left out others?
  • Are there places in your life where everyone seems mostly the same? Who is “in”? Who is “out”?
  • Are there places in your life where everyone is welcome, and differences are valued?
  • If you encountered someone who is typically excluded, perhaps someone with a physical or mental disability, what would you do?
  • What can be done in our spaces (work, school, church, neighborhood) to make sure that all people are included?
  • If Jesus threw a party, who would be invited? Would you go? What would it be like?

Pray together:

Gracious and loving God, we are thankful that everyone is welcome at your table. We pray that we will always say “yes” to your invitation, and that we would always make room for everyone at our tables.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen. 

September 20, 2020 - Love Self: Fairness

Jesus tells another parable to explain the upside-down kingdom of God, in which the last will be first and the first will be last. When we work for what we need, we feel that we deserve our reward. It rightfully belongs to us. And even if we are fine with what we receive, we resent it if others receive the same reward without the work. But this is our economy, not God’s, as Jesus explains in the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard.

Read together Matthew 20:1-16.  

Day laborers in ancient Israel, as in current day America, were among the very poorest of the poor. These were people who, unlike a household servant, could not count on any work at all. The first laborers who worked the longest grumbled when the last laborers, who worked the least, were paid the same. Perhaps you can almost hear them: “It’s not fair. I deserve full pay. They do not.” But the landowner does what the landowner chooses — basing reward not on works, but on need.  

Discuss:

  • Where do you see yourself in this story?
  • Are the workers paid fairly? 
  • Who decides what is fair?
  • Did the first workers receive less, because the last were also paid? 
  • Why were the last workers late? Was it because they didn’t want to work hard?
  • Who had more need — the first laborers, or the last?
  • What does this story tell you about he Kingdom of Heaven?

Watch How Kids Make Things Fair (credit: Oxfam International)

Discuss:

  • What did the kids do when they had unequal amounts of treats? What would you have done?
  • Did anyone talk about who deserved the treats more?
  • What if there had been some sort of contest or test before the treat were given, would that have mattered?
  • Think about what you have, and what your family has. Do you believe you deserve what you have more than others do?
  • Think of people who have much less than you do. Do they deserve to have less?
  • Like the laborers in the vineyard, we all have different “starts.” Despite our willingness to work hard, we start in different places and from different circumstances. Because of these differences, what we can “earn” differs widely from person to person. Does this make some more worthy than others?
  • How much do we really know about others, who have more or less than we do? Can we judge their worth? Who can?
  • How can we make our world more like the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus describes in his parable? 

Generous and loving God, in your kingdom there is enough for everyone, and you give based on need, not on merit. Turn our hearts upside down to receive gratefully without grumbling, and to rejoice as others receive as well. Open our eyes to the needs of others and open our hearts to give like you do. Amen. 

Love Self: All people are lovable in the eyes of God.  No exceptions.

September 27, 2020 - Love God: Listening

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus’s authority is challenged.  He is asked, “By what authority do you do these things?”  In other words, “Just who do you think you are?” In traditional rabbinical style, he draws the hearers deeper into the first question by answering it with another question. And then, he presents another challenging parable.

Read together Matthew 21:23-32

While Jesus didn’t answer the first question directly, the implied answer was clear. John was a prophet sent by God, and John himself named Jesus as the one who was coming who was even greater than he, the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. John called people to repent, to “prepare the way of the Lord.”  The chief priests and elders question Jesus’s authority because while they may have heard John’s words, they didn’t listen. They were unchanged. But like the second son in the parable, unlikely listeners emerged. The outsiders who were shunned and called sinners by the “in crowd” may have been reluctant at first to listen to the teachings of John and Jesus. After all, the voices of religious authorities were not typically kind to people like them, and ears begin to close when every word is of judgment.

But these outsiders – these unlikely followers – did listen. They were changed, completely turned upside down by forgiveness and mercy. And for this reason, Jesus says they will be first to enter the kingdom of God. How offended the priests and elders must have been! Not only was this upstart preacher from nowhere claiming authority from God, and claiming that the kingdom of God would first welcome the misfits and sinners, but he also claimed the power holders in the temple would be last to enter! But enter they would, if only they would move from hearing to listening. It is never too late for ears to be opened, thanks be to God.

In our lives, do we listen for the voice of Jesus? Or like the priests and elders, do simply hear and remain unchanged?  Do we listen to each other? What makes listening different from hearing?

Watch together: Julian Treasure – 5 Ways to Listen Better

Discuss:

  • When do you find it hardest to listen?
  • What sounds do you love?
  • What’s your least favorite sound?
  • Have you ever felt that someone is not listening to you? Were you able to get them to listen? How?
  • What’s your favorite way of listening for Jesus? Prayer? Music? Silence? Listening to a sermon about the Gospel? Are any of these especially hard for you to listen and not just hear? How do you try to listen?
  • Write down the RASA technique and the listening exercises somewhere that everyone can see them (post on a corkboard or on the fridge), and try them out this week.  When you feel especially listened to, let one another know. Try a new way of listening for Jesus.

Loving and merciful God, turn our hearing into listening. Help us to listen to you, and to one another. In Jesus’s holy name, Amen.

September 6, 2020 - Love Neighbor: Conflict Resolution

Jesus knew that there would be conflict among his followers, as there is in every family. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus tells the disciples what they should do when this happens.

Read together: Matthew 18:15-20.  You may want to begin with the words “A reading from the Gospel according to Matthew,” and end with the words “The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.”

On the surface, these directions from Jesus seem pretty straightforward. But context will help us read between the lines. In Matthew’s gospel, this passage comes in the middle of a long stretch of Jesus’ teaching, just before his triumphal entry into Jerusalem which we remember on Palm Sunday.  The teaching is a response to the disciples’ question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?”

The first thing Jesus does is point out a small child nearby, and says one who is humble like a child is the greatest in Heaven. He warns the disciples not to become stumbling blocks that come between him and the children who believe in him.  And then he tells them the parable of the Lost Sheep, and the shepherd who leaves the 99 to search for the one who goes astray, and rejoices when the sheep is safely home. 

Taking into account this context, Jesus’ teaching in today’s passage could be heard more like this: Jesus said, “You, my children, are like family to one another. You belong to each other. Because you are family, you will occasionally hurt each other. When this happens, don’t turn away from each other. It’ll be hard. When people are turning inward upon themselves, away from you and away from me, they will not want to hear you. Don’t give up. Try and try again. Leave the 99 and follow that one as long as you can. And if you cannot bring them back into the fold, treat them as I treated the gentiles and the tax collectors. Invite them to dinner. Show them friendship, and mercy.  Acknowledge their pain, and leave the door open for healing when they are ready. If you cannot transform them with your teaching, transform them with your love.  Bind yourselves together in whatever thin threads of compassion you can, no matter how delicate.  And you will find that I am bound there with you.” 

Addressing conflict is the hard but good work of healthy communities.  Together, watch Conflict to Resolution in 4 Steps by RocketKids.  

Discuss (children and parents both sharing):

  • Is there one of the four steps that seems hardest for you?
  • Tell me about a time when you had an argument or conflict with someone else. Did it get resolved? What happened?  If you had it to do over again, would you do anything differently?
  • What can we do when a conflict is not resolved? It is possible to remain friends? How can relationships be restored when they are damaged?

Loving and reconciling God, give us wisdom and patience when we don’t get along.  Help us listen more than we talk. Help us to understand one another. Give us perseverance to do the hard work of reconciliation. And if we cannot find common ground, may compassion, mercy and friendship remain. Amen.

September 13, 2020 - Love Neighbor: Forgiveness

The disciples understand that forgiving one another is a big part of the life Jesus was calling them to.  We see how difficult this idea must have been for them when Peter asks, “How often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Perhaps Peter thought his estimate was a generous one! And Jesus’s response may not have been what Peter was hoping to hear.

Watch this video (credit: Saddleback Kids), which is a retelling of Matthew 18:21-35.

This is difficult teaching. The sum of money owed to the king is HUGE. In our context, it could be thought of as millions of dollars. The king is moved toward compassion for his servant — not just giving more time or a reduced debt, but forgiving it altogether. This is important to note. When we “forgive” others, but still keep score or hold a grudge, we haven’t really forgiven them. The debt remains. True forgiveness opens the door to a restored relationship, a way to begin again. This is the way that God forgives us!  BUT…

Forgiven people must forgive one another.  God’s grace and mercy are unearned.  We do not deserve it (and we certainly do not deserve it more than anyone else). But this teaching from Jesus tells us that we must reflect this mercy to one another. The amount owed to the servant from his peer is very small compared to the debt he owed to the king — think thousands compared to millions. His harsh treatment to his own debtor must call us to account too. Do we gladly accept the lavish mercy of God for ourselves, but treat one another with petty stinginess? How generous are we when we are wronged? Do we grip tightly what we believe is owed to us, and worry only about fairness when we are the party being wronged?

Discuss (parents and children both sharing):

  • When was the last time someone harmed you, offended you, or hurt your feelings?
  • Have you forgiven them? If so, how did you do it? If not, what is keeping you forgiving? Do you want to forgive?
  • Does forgiving someone mean it’s okay that they harmed you? (No.) How might you begin again, and also protect yourself from being hurt?
  • Sometimes forgiving someone means erasing the “debt,” but beginning again without being close to the person who hurt you. Have you had a situation like that in your life? Can you imagine a situation like that?
  • Have you harmed someone, offended someone, or hurt someone’s feelings? Have you asked for their forgiveness?
  • God forgives us, because God is compassionate like the king in the story.  What might we need to ask God to forgive in us?

In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” How much harder would it be to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, if we forgive those who trespass against us?”  Or “Forgives us our trespasses, in the same amount that we have forgiven those who trespass against us?” We want our grace with no strings attached, but Jesus teaches that even though we are forgiven first (without limit), we must realize we are called to forgive others. Forgiveness is not easy, but with God’s help, we must try.

God, your power is matched by your compassion, and we give you thanks for your generous forgiveness, for all the things we do and the things we leave undone which harm ourselves and others. Remind us that you do not keep score, and neither should we. Plant your compassion in our hearts, that in response to your great love, we might forgive others.  Amen.

August 23, 2020 - Love God, Session 8: The Son of Man

Jesus often referred to himself as the Son of Man. What does this mean? Explore this concept together as well as the importance of other names in the bible – names for God, names which are changed (Simon to Peter, Saul to Paul). Discuss also your own names and what they mean – to you and those who love you.

Read out loud: Matthew 16:31-20.

Jesus is called a few things in the passage – the messiah, the Son of the Living God.  We also call Jesus “Christ,” but that word wasn’t used very much at all until after Jesus died and rose again. Christ comes from the word Christos in Greek, which means “the annointed one.”  Unlike our last names, the word Christ helps us understand who Jesus is not in the context of his own family, but the whole human family.  When Jesus was talking about himself, he used the words “Son of Man” often.  But what does that mean?  

Watch: Son of Man (credit: The Bible Project

Review:

  • Adam/Eve in the garden (they were to be partners with God, but they gave up that partnership)
  • Cain and Abel (shows how humans had become like animals, fighting and killing each other)
  • Stories throughout the bible show God’s raising up unlikely heroes to lead the people. But each of these was imperfect. Each generation had to keep waiting for the one who would restore the partnership with God.
  • While imprisoned in Babylon, Daniel dreamed of a kingdom of wild and terrible beasts who symbolize the empire. In his dream, a figure called The Son of Man is raised to rule and be worshiped in partnership with God.
  • Jesus takes on this name as the divine-human partner that humanity needed to overcome our nature and rise to the destiny that God intends for us.  
  • “In and through Jesus, God has become what we are, so that we can become what he is and share in his divine life and love. This is the story of the Son of Man, and it’s the story of all of us as well.”

So this name, Son of God, says so much!  There are many stories in the Bible which show the importance of names. Let’s talk about a few of those, and the importance of our own names.

Discuss:

  • There are many names for God – I AM, rock, redeemer, almighty, and many others.  Jesus is also known as lamb of God, savior, teacher, rabbi. Some people pray using the words Father or Mother, too.  What name for God is your favorite?
  • Several people in the bible are so transformed, that their name changes: Simon to Peter / Saul to Paul
  • Let’s talk about our names! Do we like them?  Are we called by our “real” name? Were you named after someone? Do you have a nickname? Will we be called by the same name when we get older?  Will there be other names for us when we are older (like Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Mimi, Poppie, Nana, Papa, Doctor, Reverend, Pastor)? Do you know what your name means?  
  • Because names are important, it’s no wonder that being called a “bad name” hurts so badly. Have you ever been called by a name that hurt you? It’s important to be kind and respectful of the name a person wishes to be called, because names help us know who we really are.

Your name was probably chosen very carefully when you were born. And when you were baptized, or if you may be baptized someday, the priest or pastor will be very careful to say your name just right.  All words have the power to hurt or to heal, to bring down or to life up.  But names are extra special, because they tell you who you are. Each of us also has one name in common, and that name is BELOVED.

August 16, 2020 - Love God, Session 7: Ways to Pray

Although children may be accustomed to hearing prayers at Sunday school and church, it’s important to talk more specifically about what it is, when, why and how we do it. There are so many ways to pray!  Which one is right for you? The one that makes you feel closest to God.

Watch: Why We Pray (credit: Crossroads Kids Club)

Discuss:

  • What is prayer?
  • Who do we pray to? It’s helpful to remind children that prayer is talking to God! Does it help you to pray specifically to God the creator (naming “Father,” “Mother,” or another word), God the redeemer (Jesus), or God the sustainer (the Holy Spirit)? Any and all of these are okay — approach God in the way that feels most whole and approachable for you.

Watch: How We Pray (credit: Crossroads Kids Club)

  • When do we pray?
  • What does a prayer sound like?
  • How do you pray?
  • Can we pray with others? Can we pray alone? What about praying before we go to school? Or praying before a sport? Or an important test? Can we pray then?
  • How do you feel when you pray?

 Explore different ways to pray. (Suggested: Ways to Pray with Kids, Illustrated Children’s Ministry)

  • Prayer in words, aloud, silently, or written (journal or prayer box)
  • Body prayer (in addition to the Love First body prayer, yoga, suggestions in Illustrated Children’s Ministry link above, dance)
  • Five Finger Prayer: I love you, God (praise); Thank you, God (thanksgiving); I’m sorry, God (confession); Help others, God (intercession); Help me, God (supplication).
  • Breath prayer (Great suggestions “Liturgies for Parents” on Instagram)
  • Pray through art (ideas in Illustrated Children’s Ministry link, and also Praying in Color by Sylvia Macbeth)
  • Prayer Walk (casual conversation with another or silently, walk to a point talking through the things that you are concerned about. On the way back, talk about the things you are thankful for and ask for God’s guidance in your life.)
  • Prayer beads (Make and use a set of Anglican Prayer Beads or a simpler set to use with the Lord’s Prayer). 
  • Scripture prayer (Repeat a verse either outloud or silently throughout the day. Suggestion: Psalm 46:1 – God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.)
  • Praying through silence (Shut down all devices and spend several minutes in silence, indoors or outdoors, focusing on breath.  Work your way up by adding another minute each time you meditate. You can either intend to let thoughts float by as they arise, or focus on a particular image, prayer, verse, or person.)
  • The Lord’s Prayer

Prayer in Song

Watch first video without introduction and see if children recognize this song, which is a prayer.

1)       Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow – Pipe Organ (credit: Dansorganmusic)

Briefly discuss the Doxology and how it’s a prayer of praise.

2)       Doxology – Veritas – CovenantCHOIRS – Combined (credit: Choirs of Covenant Christian High School Choirs)
3)       Ben Rector – The Doxology [Covers From An Empty House] (credit: Ben Rector) (start at 1:01)
4)       Michael Gungor “Doxology” (credit: Michael Gungor)
5)       Doxology (feat. Alton Eugene) – Maverick City Music | TRIBL Music (credit: TRIBL)

Discussion questions:

  • Which one of these songs is a prayer? (All of them!) Is there a right way to pray?
  • How do you know which ways of praying are best for you?
  • Do you think you’ll try a new way to pray today or this week? Which one?

It doesn’t matter HOW you pray. But it does matter THAT you pray. We don’t always get what we “ask” for when we pray, but that’s not really the point.  We deepen our relationship with God, and our trust grows that whatever happens, God loves us and will not leave us. Praying also shapes us over time – how we think and what we believe – and molds us more and more into the image of God.

August 9, 2020 - Love God, Session 6: Trust

Today we explore the way Jesus’ miracles test the limits of the disciples’ (and our) trust when all seems lost, focusing on the story of Jesus walking on the water. Like Peter, we want to believe, and yet we yearn for certainty. The world that Jesus offers makes no sense in the context of all else we take for granted. Thanks be to God that when we begin to sink, Jesus reaches his hand out to save us, too.

Watch and discuss: Miracle Man, The Story of Jesus by John Hendrix (published by Abrams Books, copyright John Hendrix)

Discussion questions:

  • Which miracle was your favorite?
  • Were there any miracles in the book that you heard for the first time?
  • Imagine that you were one of the disciples. What would you have thought, when Jesus healed the man with leprosy? What would you have thought when Jesus calmed the storm?
  • Let’s focus on the story of Jesus walking on the water. What happened?
  • Why did Peter jump out of the boat?
  • Have you ever seen or heard something you couldn’t believe, and you wanted proof?
  • Why did Peter begin to sink?
  • What did Jesus do, when Peter began to sink?
  • How is Jesus different from the rest of the world?
  • How is Jesus different from us?
  • What can we do if we find it hard to believe?
  • What was Jesus’ last miracle?
  • Where did you see love in this story? 

Sometimes in our lives, we feel like we are sinking. The world might feel dark and scary, like the ocean in a storm. Sometimes people are unkind to each other, and people are treated unfairly. Sometimes people are sick and sometimes they die. When life feels like this, and we look toward Jesus, he just seems so different. He loves everyone, he heals the sick, he befriends the lonely, and though he died, he somehow still lives. He just doesn’t make any sense in the world we live in, and that’s why sometimes, like Peter, we begin to sink. It’s hard to live in this crazy world and trust this Miracle Man. If you begin to sink, Jesus’ hand will always be reaching down for you and lift you up. All you have to do is grab his hand back. We will never have the proof we want, but we will have all the grace we need. Thanks be to God.

July 26, 2020 - Love God, Session 4: Small Beginnings

The objective of today’s lesson is to help children think about themselves as ministers, capable of pointing their neighbors toward the love of God. The parables of the mustard seed and leaven illustrate how small, simple, hidden beginnings can have long-term, widespread impact. No amount of faith, no effort, no contribution is too small for God. Each of us can plant “seeds” which help us become a place safety for our neighbor (like the nests in the mustard bush) and an agent of change in the world around us (like the yeast that makes a huge amount of flour rise into nourishing bread).

What is a parable?  Watch together: How to Read the Bible: The Parables of Jesus  (** For younger children, play up to the 2:10 mark, then skip to 4:16 and play to the end. Parables depicted in between may be too violent for younger children) (credit: The Bible Project)

Discuss parables in general:

  • A parable special kind of story that helps us to see in new and different ways.  It can even teach us something new every time we hear it, almost like turning a gem and seeing different colors shining through.
  • Jesus used parables to illustrate important teachings, and to explain what would happen to him.
  • Jesus used parables to give instructions to his disciples, maybe even in a secret way to help them understand without getting them in trouble with the law.
  • Parables help hearers to understand more about God and about ourselves.

Read Matthew 13:31-33, then watch:  Kingdom Seeds for God (Credit: Resurrection Church, Aurora, IL)

Discussion questions:

  • Why do you think Jesus told this parable?
  • What do you think it meant to his followers back then?
  • What does it mean to you now?
  • Why do you think it’s important that birds came and made their nests?
  • The seed was changed from something small to something big, but it also changed things for the birds. How can we make small changes that help us, but also helps lots other people?
  • How can you make the world safe for other people?
  • A mustard plant might not make a big difference in a great big field, but it made a big difference to the birds who came. What are some things we do that might not seem so important, but could be very important to just a few people?
  • It took time for that tiny seed to grow. What are some things we do that take a long time to make a difference?

 Read Matthew 13:33, then watch: Parable of the Yeast (credit: Plymouth Christian Centre)

Discussion questions:

  • How could the kingdom of heaven be like this?
  • The leaven or yeast is very small, but it has a huge impact! It changes the dough over time. Why do you think Jesus chose these examples of two things that are so small, they are almost invisible? (In addition to validating their answers, also suggest the possibility that it was because Jesus’ followers would have to follow him in secret.)
  • Are there things we can do for God that are meaningful, but only we know that they are happening?
  • What small things happen in a community (like your school, or our town/city, or state) that have a big impact on a lot of people, but you have to wait a long time to see the result?

Is it hard to have faith and trust that these small things matter in the moment? Are there examples in the past that help us to see how important it is to be patient and faithful?  Think about your ability to be a minister in the world. These parables have lots of lessons for us, but one thing is for sure. Each of them shows that there is no effort, no person, no love too small to make a difference. Every little bit you do to grow in your faith – loving yourself, your neighbor, and God – will have an important and lasting impact. You will change, becoming more and more like Jesus. And your community will change, becoming more and more like the kingdom of heaven.

Watch our heartbeat theme song, Wide, High, Long and Deep.

 

July 19, 2020 - Love God, Session 3: The Fruit of the Spirit

The objective of today’s lesson is to help children discover the presence of God in their lives by looking for the “Fruit of the Spirit” as described in Galatians 5:22-26. Where we find love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – we know the Spirit of God is working, both within us and in our communities. These “fruit” can be thought of in three groups – the first set of three describe states of mind pointing toward God, the next three concern our relationship to others (social virtues), and the last three describe how we are to be within ourselves – in other words, LOVE GOD, LOVE NEIGHBOR, LOVE SELF.

Together, watch What’s in the Bible – The Fruit of the Spirit

The Fruit of the Spirit is what comes from YOU when you follow Jesus. The fruits are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When we see these “fruit,” we know that the Spirit is present in us, and in our communities. And we can also know more about God.

Watch Maybe God is Like that Too by Jennifer Grant

Discussion questions:

  • Do you ever wish you could SEE God?
  • Why do you think God doesn’t just appear to us?
  • In the video, the boy was imagining that God was like love, joy, peace, etc. Is that how you think of God?
  • When you see these “fruits” you’ll know that God is there. Where have you seen love, joy, and peace? Have you feel that way inside yourself?
  • Where have you seen patience, kindness, or generosity? Have you feel that way inside yourself?
  • Where have you seen faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Have you feel that way inside yourself?
  • Can you think of any other things that are “Fruits of the Spirit?”
  • When do you feel that God is near? How would you describe that feeling?

Read together: Galatians 5:22-26 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.”

These good things come straight from God. When these fruit are present, God is there. And when they are not, we can bring God’s presence to our selves, our families, and our communities, when we focus on these “fruit.” Some of these are feelings that are hard to control, like joy. While others, like kindness, generosity and self-control are a choice. When we choose these fruit and work on them, we bring God’s Spirit into the world.

Watch our heartbeat theme song, Wide, High, Long and Deep.

 

August 2, 2020 - Love God, Session 5: Abundance

The objective of today’s lesson is to help children consider what they have to offer to God’s people, realizing that whatever they have is enough.  Any act of love, no matter how humble, is transformed into abundance when it is freely given and blessed by God.  Two stories will help us explore this concept – the story of the loaves and fishes (a/k/a Feeding of the 5,000) which can be found in all four Gospels, as well as Preaching to the Chickens, the story of Young John Lewis by Abari Jasim, illustrated by E.B. Lewis.

The first video we have today tells a story from the Bible that is so important, it is in all four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).  You’ll see that there is a young boy who doesn’t have much, but when he shares it, something amazing happens.

Watch together:  Feeding 5,000 (credit Jesus.net)

Discussion questions:

  • Why were the people following Jesus?
  • Jesus was trying to be alone. What was his reaction when the crowd followed him?
  • What might have happened if the boy hadn’t shared his food?
  • Jesus held the food up, blessed it, broke it, and shared it. Can you think of another time Jesus did this happened? (Last supper, Road to Emmaus)
  • Do these words sound familiar to you? Why?  (Holy Eucharist)
  • There was plenty of food for everyone somehow. It was a miracle!  Can you think of another time this happened?  (Manna in the wilderness, kids may be unlikely to know the story of Elisha from 2 Kings, but that could be shared too.)
  • Where did you see love in this story?

Our next video tells the story of  someone else who was preaching to a different kind of crowd.  His name was John Lewis.  This story is about when John was a boy – young like you.  John grew up to 80 years old, and he just died a few weeks ago.  He was a great man.  Let’s watch the video about when he was a little boy, and then we’ll talk about what he did when he grew up.

Watch together:  Preaching to the Chickens (credit: Sankofa Read Aloud)

Background:

  • John was a civil rights leader alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. John was one of six people who organized the March on Washington and the youngest speaker.  He was only 22.
  • John was a Freedom Rider – one of a group of 13 people, both black and white, who were determined to ride in a bus together from Washington DC to New Orleans. This was against the law and got John in trouble, but he knew it was important to challenge laws that kept people apart.
  • He was a Baptist minister, and was a member of congress.
  • He spent his whole life preaching that all people deserve to be safe and cared for, that all people are loved by God and have equal value, and that the voices of all people should be heard, especially when it comes to voting and making decisions that affect communities.
  • John’s message was often directed to people who were violent, and he was often hurt. But he remained nonviolent and he never gave up.  He said if you see something that isn’t right, you should always say something, and always do something about it.  Sometimes this got him in trouble, but he said this was “good trouble.”  He was very, very brave and faithful.

Discussion questions:

  • Where did you see love in the video, Preaching to the Chickens? Where did you hear love as we were talking about John’s life as a preacher, congressman, and civil rights leader?
  • How do you think John’s childhood in church and on the farm prepared him for his life?
  • As you think about your own life, do you have any ideas about what God may be preparing you to do?
  • Think about the two stories – the loaves and fishes, and the story of John Lewis. Was anything similar?

This week, let’s give thanks to God for John, who came from humble beginnings and made a big difference.  And let’s think about the boy whose small meal became enough for the large crowd.  Whatever we have is enough for God.  What do we have that we could hold up to God, ask for God’s blessing up on it, and share it freely with the world?

Music: Watch together Fear Not by Ellie Holcomb.

July 12, 2020 - Love God, Session 2: Wilderness

Many of us feel that we are in a “wilderness” time right now – we don’t quite know what is up ahead, and the danger of illness and related uncertainties may seem to lurk around the corner. We want to trust that God is with us and will provide, but that can be difficult to do. The story of the Exodus (Moses leading the Hebrew people out of slavery and through the wilderness, on their way to Canaan) reminds us that God is with us and God will provide.

First, discuss the concept of wilderness:

  • What does the word “wilderness” make you think of?
  • Perhaps the wilderness is an actual place, like a deep forest or a desert. A place with no roads or buildings, where it’s easy to lose your way. If you were in a place like that, what would you need to help you find your way through? What if you didn’t have any of those tools, how would you feel?
  • Wilderness can sometimes be beautiful during the day, but become a little scary at night. Have you ever been in a place like that at night?
  • Have you ever been afraid of the dark? What did you do?
  • Can “wilderness” also explain a feeling or a way of being?
  • Have you ever been in a familiar place, but you felt lost or scared about what would happen next? How did you find your way?

Then watch Wilderness, by Crossroads Kids Club, and discuss:

  • At first the people trusted Moses, but then what happened?
  • Have you ever trusted someone, but then you began to doubt them?
  • How did God provide for the people in the wilderness?
  • Why did they try to save the “manna?”
  • Why did God want them to rest?
  • Did the people have enough food and water to make it to Canaan? How did they find their way?
  • What is this story staying to us about the wilderness? About God? About trust?
  • God provided in some pretty miraculous ways in this story. How does God provide for us now?
  • When we trust that God is with us and will provide for us, does that make everything better? Does that take fear away?
  • How can we know which way to go, when we don’t know what’s up ahead?
  • How can we help others to trust God?
  • What can we do when we want to believe that God is present, but we can’t believe it?

While we may not expect the miraculous appearance of bread and water, or cloud and fire to point us in the right direction, we can be on the lookout for our own “manna from heaven.” Where are the leaders and acts of love that are present in our wilderness places, that point to God’s presence and provision? How has God provided for us in the past?  How is God providing for us now? Are there times when we can we bring God’s presence and provision into others’ wilderness places?

Watch our heartbeat theme song, Wide, High, Long and Deep.

June 24, 2020 - Love Neighbor, Session 3: Courage

The goal of this time together was to show—or remind—children through discussion and examples that kindness and love can sometimes take courage. We shouldn’t let children think that putting love first is always easy. It can be difficult and can—sometimes—take courage. Being courageous is a universal
feeling, but can look different for everyone. Children need to know that adults need to summon their courage often too!

We discussed our fears and how we can have courage, and watched two pep talks from Kid President!  Here are some discussion questions to get you started.  Parents, share your answers with kids, too!

  • Let’s talk about when we need courage. Can you tell me about a time when you have been afraid?
  • What do you think courage is?
  • Are there times when loving others makes us afraid?
  • How can we have courage?
  • Have you ever heard the phrase “Fake it ‘til you make it?” Sometimes it’s okay to admit you are afraid, but act as if you are not. The act of being courageous sometimes has to come before the feeling of being courageous.
  • Sometimes we think being courageous means being tough. But is it possible that kindness and compassion take more courage?
  • Loving our neighbors sometimes means we have to tell the truth, even when the truth is hard to tell. That takes courage. Can you think of an example of when telling the truth takes courage?
  • Let’s talk about peer pressure. That’s when everyone is doing one thing, and you feel like you have go along with it in order to be part of the group. What’s an example of bad peer pressure? Is there such a thing as good peer pressure?
  • Heroes are often described as courageous. Who are your heroes? Why?

In the Bible we have hundreds of passages that talk about fear, and at least 60 exhortations to not be afraid.  The definition of courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the ability to overcome fear and do what is needed, even when that’s difficult to do.  In the example of Jesus, may we have the courage to bring love where love is needed most.  If we go where others will not go, and fiercely love those who others call unlovable, than we are loving our neighbors as Jesus loved.

July 5, 2020 - Love God, Session 1: Pride and Humility

When parents, teachers and others are proud of us, or when we are proud of ourselves, it feels good! But pride has a shadow side, too. Feeling good about ourselves is healthy, as long as it doesn’t lead to feeling superior to others. When we feel superior, we separate ourselves from our neighbors, and from God. Humility is the virtue that keeps us in balance. Being humble doesn’t mean we think less of ourselves, it means we think of ourselves less. Being humble means we place God and neighbor above ourselves, realizing that our worth comes from God alone, and so does the worth of everyone else. That’s a deep goodness that reflects God’s love more than individual pride ever could.

Watch What are you Proud Of?  Then discuss:

  • What are you proud of?
  • How does if feel when others are proud of you?
  • How does if feel to proud of yourself?
  • Is it possible that pride could become a bad thing?
  • Have you ever felt that you are better than someone else?
  • Have you ever felt that you are worse than someone else?

Watch What’s That Word – Humility.  Then discuss:

  • After watching the video, what do you think it means to be humble?
  • What does it mean to put others first? To put God first?
  • If we aren’t humble, how does that keep us from loving our neighbors? From loving God?
  • Where does our value, or worth, come from?
  • Where does others’ value come from?
  • Can we earn our value? Can it be taken away?

Jesus is our example of how to be humble. He was God on earth – he could have been the most prideful ruler ever. But he wasn’t. Listen to this verse (read together Philippians 2:8). Remember, he was born in a stable. He grew up in a small town, Nazareth, and his parents, Mary and Joseph, were not wealthy or powerful.  He was tempted by evil to rule over others, but he wouldn’t do it. He loved those who no one else wanted to be with. He washed the feet of his disciples. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a warhorse. Again and again, he chose to put God and neighbor above himself – he shows us the way.  Like If we are humble like Jesus, we will see past our pride and realize that all goodness comes from God alone — this goodness is inside us and inside all people, regardless of their circumstances. We can begin to see the love of God all around us – a love that cannot be earned and cannot be taken away.

 

June 7, 2020 - Love Neighbor, Session 1: Why do we refuse to love our neighbors?

We are starting this Love Neighbor unit with a story that highlights our reluctance to love our neighbors, even when we know it’s what God wants us to do. In later weeks, we will go back and explore who our neighbors are, what they look like, and what our love toward them can—and should—look like! The story of the prophet Jonah, who did everything he could to get away from God, was probably meant to be read more as a parable than literally – nevertheless it is deeply true.

We listened to a retelling of the second half of the book of Jonah, which can be found here.  While some children may be familiar with Jonah being swallowed up by a big fish, we focused instead on Jonah’s refusal to bring God’s message to the people of Nineveh. He didn’t like them, and wanted them to suffer the consequences for their wrong living.  Prophets usually come so close to God, that they know the message God wants to send to the people.  Sometimes the message is a warning for people not living in the best ways. Sometimes it’s a message of hope in difficult times, or of how God is making all things new.  But Jonah didn’t want to come close to God.  He wanted to be as far away from God as possible.  Sometimes we too know that God is calling us to share a message of hope and forgiveness, and we refuse.  Maybe going where God sends us is inconvenient, or maybe God is calling us to love people we do not want to be near.

When we say our confession in church, we bring our mistakes to God and ask forgiveness for the things we have done, and for the things we have left undone. In order to live rightly, it’s not enough just to NOT do bad things. We also must DO the good things that are before us. Seeing something we know God wants, and leaving it UNDONE is something we all do, but it leads to pain for ourselves and our neighbors. Like all sin, it separates us from God. But like Jonah, we always have another chance to listen to God and go where God is calling us.

Discussion Questions

  • Why did God ask Jonah to go to Nineveh?
  • What was God’s message to the Ninevites?
  • What was God’s message to Jonah?
  • Why did Jonah refuse to go to Nineveh?
  • Have you ever refused to do something that you knew was right?
  • Who is harmed when we refuse to love our neighbor?
  • Who gets to decide which people are worthy of God’s love and forgiveness?

We are called to LOVE our NEIGHBORS — to show love and respect to all people, especially to those who are different from us. We must listen to God’s call, and go to others, near and far, and bring God’s love – especially when others turn away. Often, we will not want to do this. It will be easier to stay where we are. But we must go. Loving others this way is not easy, but it is what God asks of us. If we do this, we can be prophets too.

May 24, 2020 - Love Self, Session 4: Empathy Across Differences

This session introduced the basic concept of empathy (the concept of “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes” in order to share or understand the feelings of another person), as well as the universality of love – that all people are lovable regardless of the many differences between us (geography, culture, heritage, race, privilege, religion, etc.).

We watched two short videos and discussed how they might help us to see the lovability in others.  After watching I am Human, we talked about what all humans have in common. We are all doing the best we can – we make mistakes, and we all can start again.  We have dreams, feel sad sometimes, and find joy in friendships. Each of us is one of billions, but also unique. When you have empathy for someone, it is a special kind of love that says you care about them so much, you want to share in their life.  If they are sad, you can help them carry their sadness. If they are happy, you can be happy together. If they make a mistake, you can offer understanding and them start anew.

Then we watched the short film, Five. This video shows five children getting ready to worship. The children live in different parts of the world – the United States, South Africa, Iran, Japan, and India. And they are worshiping in five different religions – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu – which means they believe different things about God, and they have different scriptures to guide their lives, and they worship differently. But some things are the same. Each of these religions teaches that we should treat others fairly, the way we would want to be treated. Each of the children prays, tries their best to be good, and believes there is more to life than what we can see.  Every child wants to be play and to be loved.  We talked about how we can honor differences, and also see our common humanity.

God always sees the lovability in all people and knows what it is like to be them. It takes practice for us to see others this way, but we have a wonderful teacher in Jesus. The way of Jesus is to offer mercy and compassion to all, and to see the lovability in all people, especially those who are different from us. In fact, Jesus’ living among us was the ultimate act of  empathy – God putting God’s self in our shoes.

A blessing for you today:  May you keep growing stronger, wiser, kinder, and ever more ready to serve, always knowing how much you are loved by this church family and by the very same God who by the Word and through the Spirit creates, redeems, and sanctifies us all. Amen.

Remember, all people are lovable in the eyes of God. No exceptions. 

 

June 14, 2020 - Love Neighbor, Session 2: Who is my neighbor?

Children will often hear “Love your neighbor” at church, but we want to clarify what we mean by ‘neighbor.’ Children’s first instinct (and even adults’!) is to imagine that your neighbor is someone close to you. While that, too, is true, we want to expand the idea of who constitutes our neighbor, and how we are obligated to make those faraway and invisible feel closer and visible to us.

We watched a TEDx talk given by Maryam Elassar — Lessons in Friendship and Love (below), and talked about Maryam’s encounter with a girl at the park. She made herself vulnerable by approaching her.  But when the girl pointed out Maryam’s different clothing, things went sideways.  The two girls noticed each other’s differences, but rather than retreating in their separateness, they took an extra step toward each other and learned more about one another. By listening, their hearts softened and they became friends.  Watch the video together and then discuss:

  • What were Maryam’s choices after her mom suggested she talk to the lonely girl?  What did Maryam decide to do?
  • When the girl said Maryam’s clothing was weird, how do you think Maryam felt? What did she do?
  • Have you ever wanted to “pay someone back” for being unkind to you?
  • Maryam could’ve run away from the stranger after they were mean to each other, and that would have been the end of it. Who would have been hurt if she had done that?
  • Instead Maryam made another choice. What did she do?
  • When Maryam recited the poem, The Muslim Child, to the girl, what was her reaction?
  • The TED talk is called Lessons in Friendship and Love. What lessons do you think Maryam learned?
  • The two girls were different from each other. Did those differences keep them from being friends?

Perhaps you’ll remember Maryam next time you see someone who is looks different from you, or speaks with an accent that is different from yours. Perhaps you’ll see a potential friend, instead of just the differences. And if someone points out your differences in a way that’s unkind, you might want to pay them back and be unkind too. But perhaps, like Maryam, you could give the person another chance to be kind, and invite them to know a little more about you.

Who are your neighbors?  Are they the people who live near you?  Are they the people who go to our church?  What about people who live in other parts of our city, or in different parts of the world that seem very different from where you live?  What about people who look different from you, or speak in a different language, or with an accent you don’t recognize?  They are your neighbors too. Invite them into friendship — but don’t stop there! Take the time to notice, honor, and learn about the differences between you.  When you do this, you will love your neighbors well.

 

May 17, 2020 - Love Self, Session 3: How do you love yourself?

Jesus was once asked which of the commandments are the most important. He said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  – Matthew 22:34-40

In order to see the God-given lovability in all people, we must first see it in ourselves. Sometimes we are kinder to other people than we are to ourselves. Sometimes we focus on the things we don’t like about ourselves, or we compare ourselves to other people and feel like we are not enough. When we do this, the words we say to ourselves (even if we don’t say them out loud) aren’t loving. And this makes it difficult to say loving words to other people. Loving yourself well takes practice.

Together, watch the video The Reflection in Me. Then make a list of things you love about yourself, and say them out loud. Next, find someone in your home, and tell them at least one thing you love about them. See how it feels inside, and how it makes others feel. Loving others well, and being a good friend, starts with loving yourself.  We have to work to see ourselves and others in this way, but God sees us this way all the time.  God’s love never fails, and God’s love is for all people.  Love self — All people are lovable in the eyes of God. No exceptions.

A blessing for you today:  May you keep growing stronger, wiser, kinder, and ever more ready to serve, always knowing how much you are loved by this church family and by the very same God who by the Word and through the Spirit creates, redeems, and sanctifies us all. Amen.

May 3, 2020 - Love Self, Session 1: Who did Jesus love?

We began our Love Self heartbeat with the story of The Healing of the Paralyzed Man and the Call of Matthew (Matthew 9:2-13). Again and again, Jesus comes near to those who are on the edges of society, those who are ignored or shunned, and shows them love. Jesus shows us that even though we might not feel lovable or loved, we are, in fact, always loved by God, and so is everyone else. It is not for us to judge who is worthy of love.God has already decided that all are worthy.  Read the storyboard together, and discuss the kind of love you see in the story using the Love First lectio guide.

Story

Story: The Healing of the Paralyzed Man

Copyright Love First Resources LLC

May 10, 2020 - Love Self, Session 2: Family

Families come in all shapes and sizes, and configurations may change over time. What makes a family isn’t who is in it, but the love that’s between them. We watched the story of Cole and Stephen, and talked about the love they share – love that makes them family. And we explored how we might give and receive this kind of love.

“You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”  – Desmond Tutu

The Storyboard, Love First Lectio and Love First names are copyrighted by Love First Resources, LLC