Celebrating Earth Day with Faithful Families by Traci Smith

In my work with children, youth, and families, I was always searching for great ideas and resources to share with others. One of the resources that I highly recommend is Traci’s Smith, Faithful Families. In this new book, you’ll find all the information you need to create a variety of spiritual practices for your family or for yourself. My review of the book will be shared soon, and in the meantime, I’d like to highlight one of the practices from the book.

Earth Day is coming up soon and Traci does a wonderful job of helping us combine celebrating Earth Day with God’s love of creation. (In fact, all of the practices are ways of acknowledging God’s presence and our connectedness to God and each other in our regular, daily lives).

Earth Day-Feeding the Birds begins with a brief reflection and introduction. “This practice is designed to help children honor creation every year on Earth day by reading the creation story and making a bird feeder” (56). This practice is recommended for ages 4 and up and can be completed with only pipe cleaners and O-shaped cereal. You can make this bird feeder in about 10 to 15 minutes. You’ll want to gather your family outside on Earth Day with a Bible and bird feeder making supplies. Read Genesis 1 together. Next you’ll talk about creation as a family. You can use the question provided like “What is your favorite part of creation?” (56) or use your own questions. To create the bird feeder you simply string the cereal on the pipe cleaner and bend it into the shape of a ring. Place your bird feeder on a tree and say a prayer together.

Each practice includes notes and variations to help you. The practices are written as a script so you can easily follow along or pass the book to older children or other family members to share the reading responsibility. The script includes options for everything you need to say including prayers, introductions, and questions. As you can see from the Earth Day practice, the intention of the practices in this book is to make it easy for your family to find ways to “create sacred moments at home.”

I hope you’ll spend some time out in creation on Earth Day creating sacred moments. And I hope you’ll add the book, Faithful Families,  to your family library and your church library. For more information about this book and many other resources, please visit http://www.traci-smith.com.

 

 

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review of this book.

Remember! – A Sermon

Luke 24:13-35

“Remember!”

Originally preached at St. Giles Presbyterian Church on August 1, 2010.

 

No matter what our age, it can be difficult to remember everything that needs to be remembered.  What are some things you must remember?  Phone numbers, birthday and anniversaries, enough information to pass a test, the items on the grocery or to do list, what day it is, where we parked the car, what time our next appointment is.  How do you remember all these things?  To do lists, post-its, calendars, reminder emails, notes, tying a string around your finger, writing on your hand, telling someone else to remind you.  Even with all these helps, how are we supposed to remember everything?  And as if we didn’t have enough to remember, in today’s Scripture Jesus is asking us to remember one more thing.  The one thing Jesus asks us to remember is Jesus.  That is why we gather at this table regularly-to remember Jesus.  

 

We need to remember Jesus not because we forget him.  It’s more like we put other things and people in front of him.  It isn’t intentional that this or that comes before Jesus. Soon, this or that have piled up and more and more things have taken precedence and Jesus, well, he was first, right up front, and now…well he is here somewhere under the clutter.  Coming to worship when we have communion, when we come to Christ’s table is a time to remember to push all that other stuff out of the way and move Jesus back up to the front of our minds and hearts.  

 

And scriptures are like that too.  You may know this scripture well.  It is a favorite passage for many people including me…sometimes it gets pulled out once a year to be read at Eastertime.  If we only hear it once a year, how can we remember? Do you remember all the things on your to do list from the beginning of the summer? Probably not.   And just like our to do lists, we need to remember so we can act on what we know to be true.  

 

Our story from Luke’s gospel takes place on Easter evening. It has been a difficult week for those who loved Jesus.  A week ago, there was a triumphant entry in Jerusalem.  During the week, there was a last meal together and then came Friday.   The disciples and followers of Jesus believed he was the One to change things, the one to make things right.  And then he dies.  And they are lost. Their king, their leader, their hero is gone. Now this morning people are seeing and saying things thought to be impossible.  The tomb is empty and no one knows exactly what is happening.  Things aren’t making sense.  

 

Now we meet two people who loved Jesus who are on a journey to Emmaus.  They have a 7 mile journey to talk about all that has been going on.  On their journey they are joined by a man they do not know.  This stranger comes and joins their journey.  The narrator tells us-the readers and the listeners-that this is Jesus and yet these 2 who loved, followed, and trusted him do not know who he is.  We are told “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”  This statement leads us to ask who or what kept their eyes from recognizing Jesus?  Without this sentence, we might think they didn’t recognize Jesus because they didn’t expect to see him walking on the road.  He died.  They know this.  There are stories about an empty tomb.  Who would imagine Jesus would walk to Emmaus on the day of his resurrection?  But it doesn’t say they didn’t recognize Jesus.  It says they were kept from recognizing him.  Maybe they were not ready to see him yet.  To fully understand, they needed to hear him explain and watch him break the bread.  Only then would they be prepared to see who this stranger was.  Instead of seeing this as these two men being manipulated, look at their inability to see as God’s compassion.  God gave them time to prepare for this experience that leaves their hearts burning within their bodies.  

 

So we have three men walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus on a Sunday evening.  And this stranger, who we know is Jesus, says to the other two, “What are these words that you have been pitching back and forth to each other?”’   This question stops them.  They stop walking and look sad.  The Message says, “They just stood there, long-faced, like they had lost their best friend.”  And they had lost their best friend and their hope only three days ago.  

 

Cleopas speaks to this stranger and his question is funny to those of us who know he is talking to Jesus.  Cleopas asks, “Are you sojourning alone in Jerusalem and have not learned all that has happened recently?”  Cleopas asks this question to the only one who knows everything that has happened.  Jesus knows because he experienced it!

 

Jesus acts as though he does not know the answer when he says, “What things?”  Their answer not only describes the one they are walking with, it is also their faith statement.  ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.’

 

By this point, it seems Jesus can’t believe they are still in the dark.  How can they be so foolish and slow to understand?  The preacher, Barbara Brown Taylor describes the next scene this way, “Starting with Moses and working his way through the prophets, the stranger opens the scriptures to them and they hang on his words.  He is a gifted preacher, but it is more than that.  They are wounded, and what he is telling them is good, good news.  Maybe they aren’t losers after all.  Maybe the rumors are true.  Maybe there is reason to resurrect their crucified hope” (Barbara Brown Taylor, Gospel Medicine, A Cowley Publications Book, 1995, p. 24).

 

Even though he is still a stranger to them, the men extend hospitality-a meal and a place to stay-to this man.  He accepts.  And this is the moment that will change their lives.  As they sit down to eat, the guest becomes the host.  “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.”  The same gestures and words make them and us remember the feeding of the multitude and the Last Supper.  They know those words and they know who this is.  They recognize Jesus!   The story does not end there!  Even though it is late, they have to share this good news.  They have seen Jesus.  They must tell.  They must share this good news!

 

Who are Cleopas and his friend?  This is the only time we meet these regular folks.  God uses them to tell this miraculous story?  Couldn’t God use us too?  In order for God to use Cleopas and his friend, first their eyes had to be opened so they could see Jesus was with them.  We need to have our eyes opened so we can see Jesus.  Where will we see Jesus?

 

This meal at the communion table is a meal of remembrance.  When we come to this table, we are reminded to look for Jesus.  Look for Jesus in the person who serves you communion.  Look for Jesus in the person next to you in line to receive communion.  This meal and this story call us to remember that we can’t just look for Jesus inside these walls.  We must be looking for Jesus in the people we meet everywhere.  Our mission team is going to West Virgina this week.  They are going not only to sweat and fix things.  They go to see Jesus in the people they meet, to build relationships, and to see Jesus in each other.  

 

It isn’t easy.  These faithful followers of Jesus didn’t recognize him only days after his death.  How can we see Jesus in others today 2000 years later?  When we see people serving one another, breaking bread together, breaking down barriers that separate us, when we see those in need we must look for Jesus and we will find him in the people he loves.  

 

What does it mean for us to see Jesus in others? If I see Jesus in you, will I treat you differently?  Will you suddenly sit up straighter and behave better as if the teacher or pastor has entered the room?  If we look for Jesus in others, will it remind us to love God with all our heart and our neighbor-all of our neighbors-as ourselves?  Looking for Jesus in others might lead us to eat a meal with a tax collector, a prostitute, an outcast, or a sinner.  We come to this table because we are invited and because we need to come and be refreshed and renewed so we can look for Jesus in those we love and those we wish we could love.  

 

And just as we need to see Jesus in others, we need others to see Jesus in us.  Sometimes we are the wounded, the needy, the physically or spiritually hungry.  We need others to recognize that Jesus lives in us too.  We, too, need to be remembered.

 

As hearers of the word and those who we remember the word, we can be “slow of heart to believe” or “know the joy of those whose hearts burn within them.”  Which way do we choose to remember?

 

Let us pray-”Lord Jesus, stay with us, for the Sabbath has now begun and we have many miles to journey before we rest; be our companion on the way, kindle our hearts and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in scripture and the breaking of bread.  Grant this for the sake of your love.  Amen.”

 

Look for Jesus This Holy Week

Look for Jesus This Holy Week
This week can be difficult for people of faith. We know what is coming next Sunday, and we look with joy to Easter. And yet, we can get so busy looking ahead to what comes next that we aren’t present in what is happening now. The stories of this week are familiar to those who have spent their whole lives in the church and less familiar to those who haven’t.
This week I encourage you to look for Jesus. Look for him in celebrations and parades and times of joy. Look for him eating with his friends and laughing. Look for him among those whose friends have abandoned them. Look for him among the dying. Look for him among the lonely. And finally, look for him among the living, in surprising places, and in familiar places. If you keep your eyes open this week, you just might see Jesus in many, many people.
Loving God, We are looking for Jesus this week. Guide our steps, so we may see him in the people we meet, in the people we ignore and overlook, and hopefully in ourselves. Change our paths and routines, Holy One, so we follow where Jesus leads. Be with us this week as it is so hard to understand and comprehend the events of this holy week. Open our eyes to see the beauty and tragedy of this time. In the name of Jesus who first walked this journey, we pray. Amen.

Thank God for Volunteers!

Thank God for Volunteers! 

For years of my life, a good portion of my job relied on the kindness of volunteers. I asked people to stuff hundreds of eggs at Easter, stay up way too late for a lock-in, go on a mission trip, teach children about God through many different means and methods, lead worship, make lots of food, and so many other things! Ministry requires volunteers. Thank you all for volunteering!

Now I find myself in a different place. I was the only person in church on Sunday who volunteered to help with the Easter Egg Hunt on Saturday. Now I am the person who can say yes when asked. When I shared this story with my husband, he said how many times have you had to beg for volunteers?

So as I am thinking about volunteers and those who work to recruit them, I am thankful! I am holding all volunteers and those who recruit them in my prayers because it is hard!

 

Loving God, Thank you for those who say yes! Thank you for those who say yes, show up, and help! Thank you for all those who volunteer however they are able.

God, For all those who must recruit volunteers, we lift those hard workers up to you. Give them the words to say and the strength to keep on asking.

O Holy One, Help us to use our gifts to share your love with all we meet! Amen.

Thoughts on Communion Bread

Thoughts on Communion Bread

In my lifetime, I’ve taken communion more times than I can remember or count. I’ve presided at communion tables with my Dad, with other colleagues, and by myself. I’ve served children, youth, and adults. I love the act of gathering around a table with a group of people who seek to live lives of justice and need a reminder that each of us is loved by God.

Throughout my ministry I have spent much time talking about communion, and you won’t be surprised to know that some of the conversation has contained complaints. Do you know what the number one complaint I hear about communion is? The Bread! The body of Christ (the church) spends too much time complaining about that which represents the body of Christ.

Here are some of the concerns I’ve heard and some tips for helping you navigate the difficulty of eating communion bread that is not your favorite.

Wafers-
If your church uses wafers for bread, you might have complained that they taste like Styrofoam. This leads me to wonder if all church people are eating Styrofoam or we are just imagining what Styrofoam tastes like.
I grew up with these tasty morsels. In fact, it was the tradition in my home church for each person to break the wafer in half before eating to symbolize the breaking of Christ’s body for each of us.
You have two choices with this type of bread.
FAST-The fast method is to chew it up as quickly as you can and swallow it.
SLOW-The slow method is to let it dissolve on your tongue.
If you are lucky enough to be using a wafer for intinction, take an extra second dipping the wafer into the wine/juice. Any extra liquid you can get with the wafer will help with the taste and ease of eating.

Breads-
Communion breads come in all shapes, sizes, and textures. Some churches use the same bread each time while others love to mix it up.
If you get to select the size of your piece of bread, pick it in proportion to how much you enjoy the bread. If your piece is given to you, just eat it.
If you are dipping your bread into juice/wine and some of your bread drops off in the cup, do not fish it out. Whatever is floating in the cup needs to stay in the cup.
And if you know you are going to dip your bread into a cup, please take a decent sized piece of bread. If your bread is big enough then only your bread goes into the cup and not your fingers.

This writing was inspired by a statement I heard in a church. I loved what I overheard the person sitting behind me say so much that I wrote it down. Unfortunately, I do not know who said it nor even what church I was in when I heard it. Chew on these wise words from an anonymous churchgoer.
“Remember this if you do not like the communion bread. No one is asking you to make a sandwich out of it. Just take a little!”

We are invited to this table to remember. So I invite you to remember that we are all welcome at this table because it is Christ’s table. The next time you come to this table and find your favorite bread and beverage or your least favorite, remember you are loved and forgiven. It is okay to smile and think on these words-no one is asking you to make a sandwich out of it.

 

This is the communion table at St. Giles Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Guest Post-The Strength to Move Forward

My sister was asked by her company, Allsup, to write about her experience with cancer. Here is her story which she titled, The Strength to Move Forward.

In November 2015, I went to my doctor because I just did not feel right. I had a lot of dizziness and headaches. I thought it was just that I needed new glasses. The doctor suggested that I go to the hospital and get a blood panel done. I got a call about 30 minutes after I left the office that I needed to go directly to the ER and get a blood transfusion.

My hemoglobin was a six (about half the normal amount). I was so scared. I called my husband and we went directly to the ER. They did a blood transfusion that night. I saw a gastrointestinal doctor the next day and they recommended a colonoscopy.

I had my colonoscopy on November 11, 2015. That was my diagnosis day. I had colon cancer stage 3A. I had a colon resection surgery two weeks later.  They removed 12 inches of my colon. I was able to go home on Thanksgiving Day. We definitely had a lot to be thankful for.

I had a clear PET scan in early December. My doctor suggested doing preventive chemotherapy. I started 12 rounds of chemotherapy in January. I was able to return to work part time in February 2016 and it was a great feeling to be able to return to “normal.” I was able to work every other week while I finished treatment.

My chemo weeks were always a struggle. It was very challenging taking care of two small children and receiving treatments. I had four to six hours of treatment on Mondays and then had an infusion pump that I had to wear until Wednesday. It was very draining. My energy levels were very low, but with the support from family and friends I was able to move forward.

I finished my treatment on June 8, 2016. This was a very exciting day! My husband and my kids were able to go with me for my last time, and that made it all worthwhile. I had another clear scan later that month. My family and friends were my strength to keep going. I cannot thank everyone enough for being my strength during this difficult time and giving me the encouragement to move forward.

 

Searching for Sabbath

Just as I was steeping a cup of tea and preparing to sit down for a time of reading and writing my phone rang. The caller did not give me the news I wanted to hear. Instead I heard bad news that instantly annoyed me. The news I heard was not bad health news and my loved ones are all fine. It was nothing like that. It was not the news I wanted to hear, and I was annoyed. I needed my cup of tea and quiet time more than ever.

And the cup of tea, Earl Grey Creme, is not warming my soul as it normally does. I’m having trouble concentrating on my reading. My intention of writing about taking time for Sabbath took a slight change as I now had to reorient my thinking. How can I shut out the distractions of daily life so I can be fully present in Sabbath time? While each person has a different method for clearing out thoughts that distract, here is what works for me.

I write down what is distracting me. The physical work of writing it down allows me to transfer it from my brain where it is swirling around onto a piece of paper where I can pick it up later if needed or leave it there on that piece of paper.

I change my surroundings. I move outside if the weather is cooperating or move to where I have a view of the outside. I find a place to sit that is comfortable and not where I felt so distracted.

I remind myself that grace abounds. If now is not the time for quiet prayer and reflection, how else might I be present to God’s presence? Is now a good time to take a walk and envelop myself in God’s creation? Is now a good time to tackle a project that is long overdue? Is now a good time to write a letter to someone who is on my mind?

Whatever direction your Sabbath takes, I hope you’ll remember that grace abounds and you are loved more than you know.

40 Things in 40 Days

40 Things in Lent

 

Each year in Lent I strive to give away 40 things. This practice combines my love of making lists with my love of giving things away. I have very few rules around what constitutes a “thing” I give away. One day I might clean out my t-shirt drawer and donate what I do not need. Another day I might sort through the pantry and collect a box of food to share with someone else. If the opportunity presents itself, I’d love to give away a lunch to someone who is hungry. Often I give away many things to the recycling containers too. And I love to surprise a friend with something I give away in a package I send.

I use Lent as a time to give away and get rid of stuff so I can start new in Easter. And in response to my statement I was challenged by this thought from my friend, Brad. “Great idea but the real transformation would be to not start new in Easter with replacing what you cleaned out!” And the challenging thoughts continued with Jim’s statement, “I wonder if that would affect what I give away.”

I am seeking transformation this Lenten season, and so I am going to give away 40 things in Lent with no plans to replace them when Easter comes. I’m going to seek to inspire my sense of giving over these next 40 days.

How are you observing this season of Lent?

Waiting Through This Season of Lent

Since I am not serving a church this year, it feels like the season of Lent snuck up on me. I’ve known it was coming, and yet, I no longer need to prepare for the next church season months in advance. So, Lent is here and I’m just beginning to think about how I’ll observe this season.

While wondering how best to observe this season, I read the newsletter from St. Giles Presbyterian Church. Each Sunday in Lent, they will be singing one of my favorite songs from Taize, “Wait for the Lord.” As I read these words, I realized this is exactly what I need this year. I need to pause. I need to stop. I need to wait.

Wait for the Lord,  whose day is near.

Wait for the Lord: keep watch, take heart!

Every day of Lent I plan to sing this song. I will work on waiting and watching for the Lord. How will you observe this season?

Lenten Countdown with Post-its

Lenten Countdown with Post its

 

Those of you who know me well will know that I love post-its. I keep (at least) one pack in my purse in case of a post-it emergency. When I was doing youth and children’s ministry, I found many ways to work post-its into my lessons. Here is one example I first used a few years ago at St. Giles Presbyterian Church.

 

You will need 47 purple post-its for each person.

An Easter Sticker for each person.

Sharpie or pen to write.

 

Helpful Hints-

If you can find purple post-its that have 50 sheets, use those! I found 100 sheet purple post-its and split them in half.

I did this as a children’s message one Sunday morning and created all the countdowns myself. It took some time! If you have friends, a committee or ministry team, or a way of copying onto a package of post-its, I highly recommend doing it another way.

 

We are creating a countdown to Easter for our children/youth/families or yourself. Now the tricky part is that the 40 days of Lent do not include Sundays which is why you need 47 post-its. On the first post-it, you’ll write 40. On the second post-it, you’ll write 39.

 

Here’s the countdown for you-

40, 39, 38, 37, Sunday, 36, 35, 34, 33, 32, 31, Sunday, 30, 29, 28, 27, 26, 25, Sunday, 24, 23, 22, 21, 20, 19, Sunday, 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, Sunday, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, Sunday, 6, 5, 4, 3 (Maundy Thursday), 2 (Good Friday), 1, Easter!

 

After creating all these countdowns, you’ll be ready to hand them out or you could have people make their own at a Lenten Fair. I recommend giving them out the Sunday before Ash Wednesday (February 26) and having some available on Ash Wednesday (March 1) and the first Sunday of Lent (March 5).

 

If distributing them to families during the children’s message, talk with the children about the season of Lent and how they’ll observe it. Talk about how we are all preparing for Easter in these 40 days and Sundays. Since 40 days is a very long time for most children to understand, this is a visual example of how long we’ll be waiting and preparing.

If you’d like to give this a try and your Lenten plans are already done, make one for yourself and try it out this year. See if the daily act of taking one more number off the pile helps you to visualize and live into this holy season.