Sunday, December 12, 2010


We watched the Nooma called Kickball with the youth today.  Pretty effective, especially in this time of gift-giving. Here's the brief handout that goes with it.

Nooma: Kickball

Do you spend much time thinking about what you want for Christmas?

What was the best gift you ever got? What made it so good?

Scripture used in the video.
Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father who created all the lights in the heavens. He is always the same and never makes dark shadows by changing. - James1:17 (CEV)

I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out – plans to take care of you, not abandon you,
plans to give you the future you hope for.
When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen.
When you come looking for me, you’ll find me.
Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else,
I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed. - Jeremiah 29:11-14 (MSG)

Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?
Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil,
know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven
give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! - Luke11:11-13 (NIV)
Apologies to Sam Watterson, but this cartoon is to perfect not to include.

How would you describe what this video was about in your own words?

Think about: If God was going to give you something so that you could know him better, what might it be?

Calvin and Hobbes at GoComics.
Nooma, now available as downloads.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Scary Christmas

This study happened because I could basically not get this grade school pun out of my head.  Plus the advent readings have really been striking me with their intensity this year.  It's a little tongue in cheek, but they still haven't invented sarcasm or irony fonts, so you'll have to make do with common sense.  So for the Lakeshore Men's study this month, we have...

Scary Christmas
Time to re-advent yourself

Christmas is obviously joyful.  But as any good neurotic will tell you, there are always things to worry about.  If we look closely at the readings and themes of advent, we can begin to capture the underlying terror of the season.

In Search Of Our Kneeling Places by Ann Weems
In each heart lies a Bethlehem,
    an inn where we must ultimately answer whether there is room or not.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
    we experience our own advent in this.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
    we can no longer look the other way conveniently not seeing stars, not hearing angel voices.
We can no longer excuse ourselves by busily
    tending our sheep or our kingdoms.

1)    There’s a scary thought:  “I am the innkeeper.”  There are so many reasons to turn Joseph and Mary away.  It’s late; they’re poor; they are obvious trouble as she’s clearly very pregnant; I’m busy; I’m tired; the house is full; what will my wife say… What kind of things keep you from welcoming Jesus?

The poem finishes:
This Advent let’s go to Bethlehem
    and see this thing that the Lord has made known to us.
In the midst of shopping sprees
    let’s ponder in our hearts the Gift of Gifts.
Through the tinsel
    let’s look for the gold of the Christmas Star.
In the excitement and confusion, in the merry chaos
    let’s listen for the brush of angels’ wings.
This Advent, let’s go to Bethlehem
    and find our kneeling places.

2)    That’s more comforting: we’re the shepherds, or even better, the wise men!  What do you do during advent to look for the gold of the Star?

Maybe we can take comfort in Mary.  Gentle woman, mother of the faith… she’ll bring peace, right?  (Luke 1:46-55, aka the Magnificat)
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

3)    That sounds nice.  God is merciful, looking with favor… what’s a time when your soul has rejoiced in God your Savior?

Unfortunately, Mary continues…
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

4)    Isn’t Mary preaching revolution here?  That’s a problem – we’re the rich.  Our country is top dog; we’re the mighty.  If Mary is calling for a massive change, a scattering of the proud, she must mean us, right?  What is this prayer/song/proclamation about to you?

John the Baptist is a figure we hear about a lot in advent.  But you just know he’s going to be scary…
(Luke 3:15-20)
The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah.  John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them. 
But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.

5)    I knew it.  John is unworthy – what chance do we have?  Threshing forks, the wheat/chaff judgment, and burning with unquenchable fire?  And even if we’re wheat, that’s going to get us imprisoned and ultimately served on a platter.  What makes this good news to you?

Surely Jesus has the calming word.  After all, Christmas is his once and future arrival.  But what does he say? (Luke 12:35-40)
But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.  Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.  But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.  Therefore you must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

6)    Is this what we look forward to?  What happened already?  Why can’t the owner protect his stuff?  If we’re supposed to prepare, but we can’t prepare, how are we supposed to prepare?  And how is God like a thief?

Nadia Bolz-Weber:  “This holy thief wants to steal from us and maybe that is literal and metaphoric at the same time.  Because in this season of pornographic levels of consumption in which our credit card debts rise and our waistbands expand maybe the idea that Jesus wants to break in and jack some of your stuff is really good news.  I started thinking this week that maybe we should make Advent lists – kind of like Christmas lists but instead of things we want Santa to bring us, we write down things what we want Christ to take from us. You know, in hopes he could pickpocket the stupid junk in our houses, or abscond with our self-loathing or resentment…maybe break in and take off with our compulsive eating or our love of money in the middle of the night.  Don’t you kind of long for God to do something unexpected?”

7)    What do you think about that?  Do you long to be surprised by God?

Blogpost: Christmas Will Happen
Sarcastic Lutheran (Nadia Bolz-Weber) Sermon on that Thieving Christ
Ann Weems, Kneeling in Bethlehem (book at Amazon)
Photo: AlyssssylA at Flickr
Advice: by the way, do not google "scary santa"

John the Baptist

Sorry - forgot to post this last week!  We did this as a middle school study to just try to dig into the story of John the Baptist.  Or John the Baptizer as our pastor prefers.  I'm afraid I shocked the students though with my dramatic reading of Zechariah's canticle.  I encourage you to read it like Zechariah might have said it.  A guy who had the most amazing thing in the world happen to him, is not able to talk about it for a year, and then you recover your speech at the same moment as you have your longed-for, impossible, miraculous son... wow!

Make Way

Advent (literally “the coming”) is the traditional church season of preparation for Christmas, celebrated the four Sundays before Christmas.  Each year the readings feature John the Baptist.  Makes sense, as he was all about preparation.  John is one of the most famous people from the Bible, as he is mentioned throughout the gospels and has as dramatic a story as is possible.  We will follow his story in this study, and consider what his story tells us about preparation.

Isaiah has just finished giving some unheeded bad news to Hezekiah, and then writes this passage that is often called “Comfort for God’s People.”  Read Isaiah 40:1-11
"Comfort, oh comfort my people," says your God. 
"Speak softly and tenderly to Jerusalem, but also make it very clear that she has served her sentence, that her sin is taken care of-forgiven!  She's been punished enough and more than enough, and now it's over and done with." 
Thunder in the desert! "Prepare for God's arrival!  Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God.  Fill in the valleys, level off the hills, Smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks.  Then God's bright glory will shine and everyone will see it. Yes. Just as God has said." 
A voice says, "Shout!" I said, "What shall I shout?" 
"These people are nothing but grass, their love fragile as wildflowers.  The grass withers, the wildflowers fade, if God so much as puffs on them. Aren't these people just so much grass?  True, the grass withers and the wildflowers fade, but our God's Word stands firm and forever." 
Climb a high mountain, Zion. You're the preacher of good news.  Raise your voice. Make it good and loud, Jerusalem. You're the preacher of good news. Speak loud and clear. Don't be timid!  Tell the cities of Judah, "Look! Your God!"  Look at him! God, the Master, comes in power, ready to go into action.  He is going to pay back his enemies and reward those who have loved him. 
Like a shepherd, he will care for his flock, gathering the lambs in his arms, Hugging them as he carries them, leading the nursing ewes to good pasture.
1.    What is the comfort in this passage?

Read Luke 1:5-25
In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron.  Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commands and decrees blamelessly.  But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. 
Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God,  he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.  And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. 
Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.  When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.  But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.  He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth,  for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.  He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.  And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous-to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 
Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”  The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.  And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” 
Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple.  When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.  When his time of service was completed, he returned home.  After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion.  “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
2.    What connections to other parts of scripture do you notice here?

This passage recalls the Old Testament calling of a Nazirite: a consecrated person who abstains from alcohol and hair cutting.  Read Luke 1:57-80
When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son.  Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.  On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”  They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”
Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child.  He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.”  Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God.  All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things.  Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him. 
Zechariah’s Song
His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us − to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation  through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” 
And the child grew and became strong in spirit[d]; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.
3.    What do think this prophesy might have meant for John’s life as he grew up?

Read Luke 3:15-22
The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah.  John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them. 
But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done,  Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison. 
When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

4.    How did John fulfill his father’s and Isaiah’s prophesy?

Read Matthew 14:1-12
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus,  and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” 
Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet. 
On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.”  The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison.  His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother.  John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.

5.    What can we learn from the end of John’s life?  What do you think it meant to Jesus?

John’s message was to prepare the way for the Lord. 
6.    What do we learn from the scripture so far about how to prepare for the Lord’s coming?