Stations of the Cross: Year 1

5 03 2012

As we gear up for our third annual Stations of the Cross worship service, I thought I’d take a look back at what we’ve done in previous years.  During the first year (2010), we simply started with the question, “Where would Jesus go if he lived in Bossier City, Louisiana?”  And so we found modern-day parallels for the events in the Gospel of Matthew: Mardi Gras parades symbolized the original palm parade, and the parsonage served as our “Upper Room.”  Along the way we passed out both Mardi Gras beads and Fig Newtons.

The highlight of the evening: we  colluded with the city marshal (also a member of the church) to stage the arrest of one of the youth counselors.  It was all great fun until the police cars pulled up, and we realized, for the first time, how everything might look to other people in the park. Our buses were in the parking lot with our church’s name plastered across the side, but to my knowledge, no one ever called the church to inquire. (And since we had already been to the pastor’s house that night, he was in on the stunt!)

The “arrested” youth counselor was a high school teacher, and some of our kids posted information about the evening to their facebook statuses … long story short, she ended up in the principal’s office the next morning.  Fortunately, her principal has a good sense of humor and actually commended her for making the story of Jesus more exciting for young people!

Here’s our template for the evening, complete with Scriptures, readings, and materials/set-up information.  Feel free to use and adapt for your own context…and let me know how it goes!

Download here: 2010 Stations of the Cross

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Love God, Love People!

13 02 2011

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.

– Mark 12:28-31

A few weeks ago, we studied this Scripture in our small groups.  Among other things, each of the six small groups had to come up with a sticker design based on the two greatest commandments.  Then when we came back together, we voted on the six designs.  Here was the winner:

It was designed by the 10th-12th grade girls, voted on by everyone, and adapted into a digital format by a couple of the high school boys.  Then, I had the design made into actual stickers (using Sticker Giant….by the way, they had both the cheapest prices and the best customer service!), and we’ve been passing them out all over the place!  This morning, we read the Shema together, and we talked about how these stickers can be like mezuzahs: we can place them on our doorframes, on our foreheads, on our wallets, on our binders, on our mirrors….and most of all, on our hearts!

 





Taste and See: The Lord’s Prayer

13 09 2010

As the third lesson in our series on prayer, we focused on one of the most liturgically familiar prayers from Scripture: the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13).  This particular prayer has been a part of Christian liturgy and tradition from the very beginning of Christendom; one of the earliest extant Christian documents, the Didache, instructs believers to pray three times a day.  It includes the text of the Lord’s prayer as an example.

Most of my students grew up attending traditional worship services, where this prayer is said every week.  As such, most of them learned the words out of repetition.  In the lesson, I hoped to capitalize on the familiarity of this prayer while also bringing them to a new understanding of the words.

Beforehand, I created giant signs out of construction paper (tied with yarn) that included short phrases from the Lord’s Prayer.  On the back of the signs, I included Scripture references (for use later in the lesson):

Our Father in heaven: Luke 11:11-13, Psalm 103:13

Hallowed be your name: Nehemiah 9:4-6, Isaiah 6:1-4

Your kingdom come: Mark 1:14-15, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 13:18-21

Your will be done: Psalm 139:15-16, Psalm 40:8, Isaiah 55:9-11

On earth as it is in heaven: Philippians 2:5-11, Revelation 5:13-14

Give us today our daily bread: Matthew 6:25, 31-34; Exodus 16:1-4

Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors: Colossians 2:13-15; Matthew 6:14-15, Leviticus 25:39-41

Lead us not into temptation: James 1:12-15; Matthew 4:1-2

Deliver us from the evil one: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5, Acts 2:18-21

I hung one signs on each student’s back (so they could not read what they had); then, in total silence, they had to get themselves in order.  Only after they finished did they get to see what sign they had, and read the prayer together.  Then we talked about their own personal experience with this prayer (Is this familiar to you? How did you learn it? What does it mean to you? Do you have any particular memories of this prayer? etc.)

We looked up the original text of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), and then I invited the youth to split off by themselves and silently read and reflect on the Scripture references on the back of their signs (if we had had  a really big group, I would have had them do this in small groups).  Then we came back together, and I had each student share their portion of the Lord’s Prayer, with a paraphrase or explanation based on the Scripture passages that they had just read.  (The main question here was, “Why is this  particular phrase important to the prayer as a whole?”)

Then, we took a step back and read Matthew 6:5-13, focusing in especially on verses 6-8. How does Jesus’ sample prayer actually fulfill the instructions about prayer that he gives during the Sermon on the Mount?

Appropriately enough, we closed our session with the Lord’s Prayer!





Transfiguration and the Prophetic Imagination

6 08 2009

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

– Matthew 17:1-5

Although I’ve always thought Peter’s suggestion (“Lord, let’s build three shelters”) is incredibly random and slightly ridiculous, I do understand the sentiment behind it–or at least, I thought I did.  This is a “mountaintop experience,” and Peter wants to hold onto the moment for as long as he can, as if by erecting tents he might be able to prolong the vision.  Jesus doesn’t even acknowledge the suggestion, because, of course, there’s work to be done below.

That’s the interpretation I’ve always heard.  However, if you could not tell from yesterday’s blog post, I am in the midst of reading Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination.  And as I made my way through the second chapter, I began thinking about the Transfiguration in a different light.  So here goes:

In Matthew 5, Jesus says that he has come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.  And previously, I thought chapter 17 was a pretty clear allusion to that fulfillment: Moses represented the Law, and Elijah represented the Prophets.  Obviously.

But Brueggemann expands the notion of prophecy to include Moses as a prophet, as well, and devotes the entire first chapter to the alternative consciousness that Moses represents, in complete opposition to the Egyptian empire.  The gods of the Egyptian empire were “static” — meaning, the religion existed only to serve the ruling elite.  Under such a system, the poor and oppressed — that is, the Israelite slaves — had no reason for hope; after all, if the gods were on Pharaoh’s side, why should they care about their plight?

But the Israelites cried out to the LORD, and he heard them.  And into this prosperous and stable empire entered a God who would change everything.  Omnipotent and all-knowing, this God answered to no one.  He did not confine himself to a temple or to the Pharaoh’s palace; he was, in Brueggemann’s word, free.  Free to do as he wished, free to answer the cries of the Israelites.

This God was a god of the wilderness.  He led his people through the wilderness, and in spite of their complaining and at times, lack of faith, they followed their God through the wilderness, hoping to reach the Promised Land.  His Ark of the Covenant lived in a tent, and that suited Him just fine.  He, of course, was not confined to a tent; he appeared in a burning bush, in a cloud of smoke, in a pillar of fire.

This was the community from which arose the prophet Moses.  This was the God for Whom he prophesied.

Fast-forward several hundred years.  God, of course, did not change; he never does.  But the community of Israel had left the wilderness and moved into the cities.  Against God’s wishes, they appointed a king and set up an empire.  They even built a temple for God within the city of Jerusalem.  They wanted their God to stay in one place, where he might be more manageable.  Brueggemann notes that “Solomon was able to counter completely the counterculture of Moses: 1. He countered the economics of equality with the economics of affluence … 2. He countered the politics of justice with the politics of oppression … 3. He countered the religion of God’s freedom with the religion of God’s accessibility.”

But, of course, God did not just go quietly into his little temple and stay there.  No, he commissioned prophets to confront the kingdom and imagine another consciousness for the people of Israel and their religion. This alternative consciousness was concerned with justice and with sacrifices that actually meant something; it recalled a time of wilderness for both God and His people.  These were the prophets who shaped our collective understanding of prophecy: Samuel, Nathan, Abijah, Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Hosea, Daniel, Amos, etc.

And then we have this passage of the Transfiguration from Matthew 17.  What should we do with it? How should we understand Peter’s suggestion?

Like Moses and Elijah, Jesus spoke out against the prevailing culture and religion of his day.  Interestingly, he spoke often of the kingdom of God, even proclaiming that the “kingdom of God is at hand”   (Mark 1:15).  His audience loved it. They thought their Messiah was igniting a revolution against the ruling Romans and paving the way for Israel to re-establish its kingdom.  They expected a king-Messiah who would use force to take over and save them.

They were missing the point. And so was Peter. Whether consciously or not, I think Peter’s suggestion displays a Solomonic affinity for temple-building, for putting down roots and erecting long-lasting structures.  But the kingdom of God of which Jesus spoke was vastly different from the Davidic monarchy.  He had not come to build a temple: he was the temple (John 2:19), free to call and choose and love both Jews and Gentiles, and by so doing, to set them free, as well.  Like Moses and Elijah before him, Jesus was in the business of proclaiming an alternative consciousness and an alternative kingdom.  His was the sort of counterculture that could — and can — only be found by stepping into the wilderness and meeting God there.

Listen to Him! Listen to his vision, his prophecy, his new Law, his transformative message! Listen to His voice, crying out in the wilderness to proclaim His kingdom! Listen!





Meditation on Faith

24 07 2009

(I know that this is formatted differently from most posts.  It was inspired by a creative journal entry that I wrote last year, and I tried to convey the imagery of the journal using colors, indentations, and font styles.  Think of it as a work in progress…)

You of little faith!    – Matthew 6:30b

Truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.”
– Matthew 17:20

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  For by it the men of old gained approval…

Abraham believed the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness.
– Genesis 15:6

By faith we understood that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which were visible…

I say, faith is a burden.  It’s a weight to bear.  It’s brave and bittersweet.  And hope is hard to hold to.  Lord, I believe!  Only help my unbelief!
– Andrew Peterson, No More Faith

“…God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”  – Romans 12:3

“Now there are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit…to another [is given] faith by the same Spirit…”  – 1 Cor. 12:48

Preach faith until you have it.  Then, preach faith.

So what, then, is this faith thing? An assurance, a conviction?  A burden?  A gift?

It’s hard to understand the fact that God has given people faith in different amounts, and yet the world testifies to that very fact.  There are people who struggle as they search for a faith that they don’t really feel, and others who can’t help but believe,  as though that faith was programmed into the core of their soul.

Everywhere there are people who claim that even the “best” non-believers are still living in sin because they do not believe.  But Scripture teaches that faith is a gift, just as teaching is a gift, and healing is a gift.  And exercising any one of these gifts without love is nothing: a clanging symbol, a noisy gong.  In other words, useless.

But what happens when you exercise one of these gifts without faith?  Surely no gift is greater than the other; in the body of Christ, there is room (and necessity) for each person to exercise his or her unique gifts, in proportion to God’s allotment.  And so, I can’t help but wonder…is there room (and necessity) for the non-believer to exercise his or her unique gifts?

I am reminded of a conversation that I once overheard between a Christian and a rabbi.  The Christian asked, “Don’t you get tired of having to live up to an unrealistic standard of righteousness in the laws?”

The rabbi answered, “I’d rather ask myself, ‘Am I doing enough?’ than have to always worry, ‘Do I believe enough?'”

…Because what happens when you can’t measure up to that standard?  What happens when you find your soul devoid of faith? Is the advice passed on by John Wesley enough: can you preach faith until you have it, and hope that by doing enough, you will train yourself to believe enough?