Children’s Message: Talents

Delivered on November 19, 2023.

*Bring some Gold Coins*

So it’s my tradition after the prayer of the day to bring a message to all of God’s children. And I want to talk a little bit about our reading from Jesus today. He’s going to tell a story and in the story – he’s going to talk about people who had talents. 

Talents is a word we use often and we usually use it to mean some special gifts or ability that someone might have. So what might be a talent? Accept answers. A few of the gifts highlighted on our stewardship drive about the gifts we’ve noticed in others are about their talents – what they do and what skills they have. You all have talents and God gave you those talents because you are worth having those talents. 

But back in Jesus’ day, a talent was like this: show a gold coin. A talent was a coin that was worth a very large amount of money. It was worth all the money you might raise while working for twenty years. It might be hard to process just how much that might be. I know, in my house, my kids like to collect Pokemon cards and we often talk about what it would be like to buy a booster box – 36 packs of pokemon cards. A booster box, depending on what cards it contains and how old it is, is roughly $110 – which is roughly how much a person might make working minimum wage here in NJ. So if you didn’t have to pay for rent or food or health care and clothes – all you needed to buy was booster boxes of Pokemon cards – one talent would allow you to buy over 6,000 of them. That’s a lot! 

And so Jesus tells a story about someone who received 1 talent, 2 talents, and 5 talents. 3 different piles and so we’ll make those piles. Make the piles. If it’s helpful to think in terms of pokemon cards or whatnot – imagine 6000 and then 12000 and then 30000. So we should think about those piles as we listen to those stories and wonder what God would like us to do with all the gifts God has given us. 

Hand out some coins to folks. 

Children’s Message: An Unexpected Place for God – Reformation Sunday

Delivered on October 29, 2023.

So it’s my tradition after the prayer of the day to bring a message to all of God’s children. And I wonder – have you ever played Peekabo? Let’s play it together. Play Peekabo. It’s a silly game – but an important one – because, for babies, when you cover your eyes, they really do imagine that you’ve vanished. You’ve hid – and they do not expect you to come back. But then you do – in the place they least expect – and they smile, laugh, coo because your presence brings them joy, kindness, and love. 

If we’re not babies, though, maybe a better hide game would be Hide and Seek. So look around the sanctuary. If we were going to play hide-and-seek right now, where would you hide? Accept answers. All great places to hide – and the person seeking would have a hard time finding everyone in those spots. But imagine, for a moment, you were the seeker – where’s the place you wouldn’t expect anyone to be hiding? It might be in a very obvious space – maybe sitting in a pew – or standing at the altar or something else. If we’re playing hide and seek, we’d go for all the obvious places we’d expect someone to hide at. But the least expected place is one we might visit last – or not at all. 

Today is Reformation Sunday – a day when we celebrate the Lutheran flavor of Christianity. We are all Christians – followers of Jesus – but there are different ways to think about God and Jesus so that has led to different versions of Christianity that emphasize different parts of Jesus’ story. 500 years ago, a monk named Martin Luther posted 95 concerns and complaints about how the church functioned in his day. He nailed them to a church door which was the bulletin board of his town. But he also mail a copy to his boss – known as an archbishop – who wasn’t thrilled with what he wrote. Legend says Martin Luther posted these 95 thoughts on October 31 and we mark that as the birthdate for Lutheran Christianity. We take time on the Sunday before October 31 to remember our Lutheran birthday and I like to think about one of the parts of Jesus’ story that Lutheran Christians choose to emphasize. And one thing we emphasize is how God shows up in the places we’d least expect. 

God – created everything and God continues to create. God is powerful, divine, immortal, who is beyond space and time. God is beyond the limits of our imagination and we imagine God as powerful, ultimate, even more powerful than any superhero in the Marvel universe. And so we’d imagine, when God shows up in our lives, for God to be just that powerful. God would be strong and mighty and always in charge. God would be whatever we imagine power to be. But where God chooses to show up – as we see in Jesus’ story – is on the Cross. God chose to discover what it’s like to be a child; to learn; to grow up; and to be cared for. God chose to live with people and in creation and to have friends and those who didn’t like him. God chose to love and serve and challenge all the images of power we hold. God showed up to us in Jesus – revealing who God is – and this Jesus even died on a cross to show how far God will go for each of you. The Cross is the unexpected place we’d find God to be and yet that’s where God shows up because love is bigger than anything we try to do to end it. 

As Lutheran Christians, we emphasize a lot of different things. We emphasize faith as a gift; grace as something we are given; the joy of reading the Bible in our own languages; and how we are saints and sinners all at the same time. We emphasize what God has done before we talk about what we can – or should do – and we notice how God shows up in unexpected places. There’s no place you can hide – nowhere you can go – where Jesus isn’t with you. And that is a gift that helps us grow into the people God knows we can be. 

Children’s Message: Don’t Be a Monster

Delivered on October 22, 2023.

*Bring the book Atlas of Monsters and Ghosts

So it’s my tradition after the prayer of the day to bring a message to all of God’s children. And I have a book with me. It’s called “Atlas of Monsters and Ghosts.” I think I got this last year at my school’s book fair. Since it’s almost halloween and many of us have already been to trunk or treats and other events, I figured it would be fun to open up and see what monsters are inside. 

Go through a bit of the book. Highlight any from the Near East and New Jersey (since that’s where I am). 

Since it’s halloween, we see a lot of monsters and ghouls, ghosts and goblins, and other scary things. And it’s okay if seeing those things make you feel scared. They might be plastic and fake – but we might get scared. They’re designed to scare us and to worry about monsters. But just because we might be scared or worried about monsters that doesn’t mean we get to be one. Dressing up as a ghost or a ghoul or a zombie doesn’t give us permission to be a ghost or ghoul or zombie. Rather, I think it’s a reminder that we can dress in different ways, put on different clothes, put on any costume we want – but that doesn’t change “whose” we are. No matter what you wear – you are loved and belong to Jesus himself. We can dress up in our costumes but that doesn’t change Jesus loves for us. And so, since Jesus, loves us – we can act like Jesus regardless of what costume we’re wearing. So we can be kind; we can listen; we can help; and we can be patient; and we can protect others even if our friends, family or others are being like a monster to them. That might be difficult to do – but it is what we get to do because Jesus has already decided that nothing, especially any monster, will stop God from loving who you are and will keep helping you be like Jesus today and always.

Children’s Message: Be A Birthday Party!

Delivered on October 15, 2023.

*Bring a birthday hat* 

So it’s my tradition after the prayer of the day to bring a message to all of God’s children. And I want to talk about something I’m wearing on my head. It’s a birthday hat! Since my youngest is now in school, she’s been invited to several birthday parties recently. Even if we haven’t been to a birthday party in awhile – what happens at a party? Accept answers. Where do these parties take place? Accept answers. Who gets invited to the party? Accept answers. 

 Jesus is going to tell another one of his parables – a short story today. And it’s a story that is a little weird with lots of strange details. But one of the important parts of the story is its setting – where the party happens. And it happens at a party. It’s not a birthday party but a wedding party thrown by a king. And since it’s a king – who do you think would go to that kind of party? Accept answers. If the king invites you to go to a party, you pretty much have to go. Yet Jesus’ story will reveal something a bit weird. The king will send out invitations – and no one who was invited wanted to come. So the king made the guest list even igger – inviting EVERYONE TO THE PARTY. It includes people the king loved – and many who they didn’t. It included people who were good, helpful, and kind; and those who weren’t. The king invited everyone to the party because everyone deserves to be at that party. 

So if everyone belongs in that party – do you know who else belongs in that party? Us! That’s right. And since it’s a party – it means that we get to follow the party rules which is all about having fun, making sure others have fun, and that we do our part to experience joy – and help other folks experience that joy too. In other words, to join in the party together – with each other – and with our God who always invites us into a heavenly party where the only party rule is that we should love and serve one another like God loves, serves, and includes each of us.

Children’s Message: Debt and Credits

Delivered on September 17, 2023.

bring coins

So it’s my tradition after the prayer of the day to bring a message to all of God’s children. And today I have with me a few coins. I have a quarter, a dime, a nickel, and some pennies. We use money – usually plastic money rather than physical money – to pay for things and the work people do. For example, if I wanted to buy a pack of pokemon cards in person, I’d need to go to the store – pick a pack – have the store tell me how much that costs – and give them the amount of coins or dollar bills for me to walk out the door with it. We’ve decided that money has value – and we can exchange that value for something else of value too. But what happens if we don’t have enough money for what we want?

We don’t get it. Or we borrow money to buy it.

Right. We can borrow money – telling a company or a bank or a friend or our parents that, we promise, to pay back, eventually, what we owe. If I’m explaining this correctly, when we borrow money – we take on what is called a “debt.” We’ll get the pokemon cards but we’ll owe money to someone else. And that other person or bank or whatever will often charge us “interest.” They want to make a little money from us by giving the money first hand. So sometimes we take on debts – believing and trusting or knowing we can pay that debt off in the future. Every person and family has different debts they can safely hold and, sometimes, debt becomes a problem based on things we can and can’t control. Knowing our debts – and how having a debt impacts our thoughts, feelings, and life – are important. And the language of debts – and situations about debts – show up in our Bible all the time.

Jesus will, in a few minutes, share a story about debts. He’ll talk about the story of someone who owed someone else 10,000 talents which is a lot of money. But this person couldn’t pay it back. They were going to be punished for it – but begged for another chance. Instead of being given more time to pay it back – or lessening the amount or anything of the sort – Jesus talks about this person having their debt forgiven. What do you think it means for a debt to be forgiven? Accept.

In this story, the debt is wiped away. It’s now 0 and the person no longer has to pay it back. Imagine having a debt for the pokemon cards and always just having to worry about it. But now…you wouldn’t. The debt is gone so you can live and act as if it no longer exists. That kind of forgiveness is freeing. It enables us to do things we might not be able to do. And Jesus, in the story, invites us to practice that kind of forgiveness. Part of what we do as followers of Jesus is to live as if forgiveness is real. It’s something we experience and something we offer to others. Forgiveness, though, is really difficult because it can involve more than just money. Our feelings or our bodies or our emotional health might have been impacted by the behaviors of others or we might have done something, said something, that hurt someone else too. Forgiving someone in those cases might not be something we can, or want, or should do since it might ask us to forget or act as if something that harmed us never did. Forgiveness is hard and complicated work – but if we pay attention to what forgiveness does in the story Jesus shared – we can see what forgiveness should do. It should be difficult, costly, but also freeing – something that, if we can, we offer to others. It’s about letting ourselves and others live freely – but not to simply just do or get what we want. But rather, a forgiveness that recognizes how we all need forgiveness because we are not perfect yet we receive that forgiveness from our God who wants to free us from our hurts and how we hurt each other so we can love, care, and support one another just like God does with us – everyday.

Children’s Message: God is present in the frustrations. Blessing of Backpacks.

Delivered on September 10, 2023.

*bring lots of copies of the same coloring sheet*

So it’s my tradition after the prayer of the day to bring a message to all of God’s children. And today I have a stack of coloring sheets. They’re kind of neat – and something you can color during the sermon. So if we got a copy of this – we might feel it’s pretty neat, especially if we like the characters on it. So getting one copy of it is cool. But what if, after you finish coloring that sheet, I gave you another one? Still neat – but maybe not as fun. And then – after you finished that one, I gave you another one – the exact same thing. How many coloring sheets would I need to give you before you started to feel a bit bored or tired or wondering why you’re doing it? 2 or 3 or 5. At some point, even this fun thing can feel very routine or not exciting.

Now I know school started – and school can be fun and exciting and terrifying. What kind of feelings did you have on your first day? Accept answers. I remember feeling excited because I’d get to meet new teachers, see my friends, make new ones, and get excited about learning. But then the homework would start. And the lessons that, while exciting, started to feel routine. Sometimes knowing that we’re going to do similar kinds of things at similar parts of the day is pretty helpful – especially if we need that kind of structure to do our best. But at some point – the excitement starts to fade. It might take a day or a week or a month but there are times when school feels like a bit of a drudge. And it’s totally okay if, at some points in the school year, it starts to feel like that. It’s completely normal and natural for that to happen. In fact – and here’s a secret – even parents and teachers and aids and administrators feel like that sometimes to. The teachers have to plan and prep for all the lessons they’re going to be teaching you. The aids have to help too. The administrators have lots of paperwork to do and happen to deal with teachers, parents, and all the not-fun part of education that is necessary to make things run as smoothly as possible. And then parents have lots of schedules to keep track of, lunches to pack, school supplies to buy, and more. Some days are exciting and energetic and we can’t wait for what the day might bring. But other days aren’t as exciting. We just feel we’ve got to get through them.

And on days like those, I like to remember that we’re not going through those days alone. Jesus is with us on exciting days and scary days and on those boring days too. Jesus knows what it’s like to have all those kinds of days and I’m pretty sure Jesus felt a lot of the same emotions you feel too. Jesus got scared and nervous. He laughed and cried. And I’m pretty sure there were a lot of times when, especially when his friends didn’t seem to understand the lesson he was trying to teach, I’m pretty sure Jesus got a little frustrated that he needed to come up with a new lesson plan to try and make it stick. Jesus knows that life isn’t always exciting and new. In fact, most of life doesn’t feel like that. Instead – there are things we get to do and Jesus makes sure we have the grace, the energy, and the community – the church – to help carry us through. That means, when you wake up and you can’t wait to go to school, Jesus is with you – cheering you on. And when you wake up and don’t want to go to school, Jesus is still with you – totally feeling what you feel – but also gently getting you out the door to embrace your vocation as a student or a teacher or an aide or an administrator. Your feelings are totally valid and you get to feel all you feel. Yet you’ve also been given an opportunity to learn, to grow, to teach, to lead, to support, and to love. Being in school right now is hard. Jesus gets that, Jesus sees that, and Jesus will help you through it all.

So I’ve given these before but I figured they might be helpful now too. During the routine of the school year, I hope you remember that you are not alone. I pray that you realize you are a gift to the world and that we, together, can help each other thrive. So we get to be loved cuz you are loved. We get to be kind – to support each other. And you get to be you because the world, and Jesus’s body and the church can’t be what it’s supposed to be without you. The days might not always be exciting, especially when the work just seems like it’s just one thing after the other, but you have all the skills you need be the student God knows you can be.

So let’s bless one another for this upcoming school year.

Let us pray. O God, today we gather to celebrate the beginning of a new school year. It is a time filled with joy and excitement as well as uncertainty and wonder. You are the giver of all knowledge and wisdom and ask for all centers of learning be safe, lively, and fully of the joy, peace, and welcome so all can focus on the pursuit of education and the betterment of ourselves.

Bless students as they enter new settings, meet new people, and learn new ideas. Give them open minds and open hearts to learn and to experience more fully the majesty of the world You have created. Strengthen them as they learn and grow this year. Show them how to serve you best by studying hard, and by discovering and using the gifts you have given them. Fill them with the joy of learning and uplift each of them with your grace and love. Enable them to grow in knowledge and wisdom during this school year and all the days of their lives.

Bless teachers, aides, and all those who stand alongside our students as they work diligently using the skills and abilities you have given them. Whatever their task or duty, guide them to do it in love and faithfulness to you, knowing that even the most ordinary task becomes extraordinary when done in your name. Give them calm strength and patient wisdom as they help, teach, support, protect, guide and encourage all through this road of education. Grant them joy as they lay the foundation of hope for all learners.

Bless support staff, administrators, and all whose work often goes unseen. Remind them that Your work also often goes unseen and yet serves as the foundation that the rest of life is built on. Give them calm strength, patient wisdom, and boundless grace as they hold together every center of living through their dedication and work.

May this year be safe, full of promise, work, and fun. We ask all this in the name of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Hand out tags.

Children’s Message: Different Images from the Bible for God (i.e. God as a pronoun)

So it’s my tradition, after the prayer of the day, to bring a message to all God’s children and I have a hymnal supplement. In 2006, our denomination came out with a new hymnal to replace the one that came out in the late 1970s. Stuff from this hymnal is what we reprint in our bulletin every Sunday – but that hymnal, the ELW, is 17 years old at this point. So last year, our denomination put out a supplement – named All Creation Sings – with new songs, new resources, and new orders for worship that we can try. Sometimes we use these new songs in our liturgy during communion and I’ll explore using them more in the coming months. Yet one thing I find really neat about these hymnals – and the supplement – is the special resources at the end of the book. For example, there’s a list in the ELW where a lot of our language for worship comes from and in All Creation Sings is a list of all different images for God. When the Bible talks about God – describes God – imagines God – compares God to things in the world – there’s a list of all that God is described as. 

So let’s try that. Let’s imagine God. God is…God and our words can’t fully describe who God is. We have to use metaphors or descriptions to say who God is like. So who do you think God is like?

Go through the list. Examples include as a mother, as a man, as feet, as a bear, as a hen, and more. So many images!

You might notice that I tend to say “God” all the time – rather than use pronouns like he or she or they. And that’s because of a list like this. God is described in a lot of different ways that transfers what our words can do. Even the words in the Bible, while sacred, are still our words – so they are a little limited. So I just use God – and imagine that God represents all the things listed in scripture. God invites us to imagine God in all different kinds of ways – and when we want to know who and what God is like – we pay attention to Jesus because he shows us who God is, what love looks like, and how we have the power and responsibility to love like he does too. 

Children’s Message: The Responsibility of the Keys

*Bring your car keys

So it’s my tradition, after the prayer of the day, to bring a message to all God’s children and I have something with me that I carry often in my pocket. It’s my keys. Let’s go through what is on my keys. I have a bunch of little pieces of plastic for the various reward programs that stores I attend have. They give me a special coupon if I give them permission to track everything that I buy. I have a library card, ikea card, shop rite, stop shop, and even a card for A&P grocery store which closed in 2015. I probably should throw that card out. 

I also have keys for my home and keys for here at the church – like my office, the altar guild room, and the front doors in the sanctuary. And then I have these two keys – keys for my cars. Keys, for cars, are changing so these are a bit old skool. They have little buttons that will unlock doors but also this key that you insert into a door or into the engine to turn it on. You might see different kinds of keys, called FOBs, that allow you to turn your car on as long as you have it on you or in your car. So that shows you what a key does: it helps us enter the car, turn it on, and go. 

Now we live in an area where having a car is sort of essential. It’s very difficult to walk to places since we don’t have sidewalks, homes are far apart, and we sometimes need to travel miles to go to school, to fields for sports, to work, and more. Not everyone lives like we do so not everyone needs, wants, or even uses a car. But thinking about what car keys do helps us lean into the story about Jesus we’re going to hear in our second reading from the Bible. Jesus and his friends are traveling around, preaching, teaching, and healing when they near the city of “Caesarea Philippi.” Caesarea Philippi was a newish city that was a very important city – and was named after the Roman Emperor whose title was “Caesar.” The city was full of soldiers, a market place, important government officials, and a lot of different religious buildings that were designed for people who didn’t believe in God. And among those buildings and statues that people thought described the different beings who controlled the universe, influenced lives, etc – was a statue dedicated to an old Roman emperor. Folks were acting and believing and treating as if even the Roman Emperor was someone with power like God or Jesus. It’s there, in sight of those buildings and the Roman military and all these things that said something other than God was in charge of it all – that Jesus asked his friends a question: who do people think I am? The disciples shared what people thought Jesus was. And then Jesus asked “who do you think I am?” and Peter said the Messiah which is a word we don’t use too often but is all about the One who makes God’s love real in our world. Jesus agrees with Peter and promises that his confession – his proclamation about who Jesus is – will be the strong foundation that the church is built on. We continue to think about, proclaim, reflect on who we say Jesus is – and Jesus keeps coming to us to remind us that Jesus is God’s love made real and how that changes the church, our lives, and the world. 

Jesus then talks about keys. And the saying is a bit confusing which is why car keys might help us understand what Jesus is saying. Like how a key enables us to decide, with a car, where to go and to go there – Jesus is saying that because we know him, because of our baptism, because of our faith – we are going to jump into the driver’s seat of, like Jesus, helping make God’s love real in the world. That’s going to mean making decisions, making choices, and doing our best to know Jesus, spend time with Jesus, to pray, and to love like Jesus. And while this is a very powerful thing we get to do – it’s also a great responsibility. Jesus is trusting us – in all that we do, even if we don’t drive or don’t have car keys – to make loving decisions. That’s the freedom our faith gives us – the chance to make love, kindness, patience, hope, and mercy at the heart of everything we do because Jesus chooses each of us to, like him, make God’s love real in our world. 

Each week, I share a reflection for all children of God. The written manuscript serves as a springboard for what I do. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship on the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 8/27/2023.

Children’s Message: Don’t Stop Learning

So it’s my tradition after the prayer of the day to bring a message to all of God’s children. And I have with me a tool used in the kitchen. Have you ever seen something like this before? Let’s describe what we see. 

Describe the tool. 

This is known as a Honing or Sharpening steel. It’s a tool used in the kitchen to help keep knives sharp. A knife works by having one edge sharp – at a point. And that’s why you have to be really careful with knives because if you touch the sharp edge rather than dull edge, you could hurt yourself. When you see knives or use knives, make sure your parents and guardians are around. Knives aren’t toys – they’re tool – that I use a lot to cut strawberries, apples, cucumbers, and other food items in the kitchen. A sharpening steel is pretty easy to use. You take a knife – with a blade and you just gently drag it down one side and then the other. You can hear it make a noise – like a sheeen. After a few “sheens,” the knife is sharper than it once was and that’s important because a sharp knife will do what you want it to do – making it safer and easier to use. For the longest time, I thought the sharpening steel was similar to what a knifer sharpener was. But I was wrong. For years and years, I thought I knew what this thing did. Turns out, I was mistaken and I just recently learned what a sharpening steel does. 

ANd to know what it does, we have to realize we can’t see everything and what we think we know might not be the full story. If you look at the edge of the knife, it looks pointy and sharp. But our eyes, without help, can’t really see what is happening at the pin-point edge. It’s the pin-point edge where the edge of the knife touches the apple – and it’s there where the knife can start to get faulty. The more we use a knife, the more that edge gets out of whack. It’ll start to wobble, no longer be straight, and resemble a squiggly line. Parts will flatten out or point in random ways and will no longer have an edge. That’s what makes the knife dull – which makes it harder to cut and harder to do what you want it to do. When you rub it on a sharpening steel, you’re bending the edge at a microscopic level so that’s it straight. It’s not actually sharpening the edge which would involve using stone or something harder than the knife to actually rub metal off, making a new point. It simply brings the edge back to the way it was. And it takes care of an issue we know is there but that we can’t physically see. 

So why bring up a sharpening steel in church? Well, for a few reasons. One is that, for the longest time, I didn’t know what this thing actually di. I thought it actually changed the blade by physically grinding away bits of metal from the edge. But it didn’t. You’re always going to learn new things, no matter how old you are. And you’ll often discover that what you do know isn’t quite right. It’s okay to admit when we get things wrong because we will. We don’t always see the full story because we’re only human. We can only see what we can see – yet we have opportunities and tools that might help us see in new ways. Seeing things in new ways is an important theme in our stories about Jesus. He is always helping people look at their lives, the people around them, and what they hold most dear – and wonder if there’s a more loving, more kind, more patient, more godly way of looking at things. Jesus knows what it’s like to be like us – to only see a bit of the picture. But Jesus is also God – and knows that there’s so much more to see, to wonder, and to understand. Jesus invites us to stay open the possibility that we’re not right about all things and that we will always need to keep learning. And it’s okay to always be a learner – even when what we learn my challenge something very important to us or upend what we thought we knew. We get to learn and grow and change and, even when it feels difficult to do that, we should do it anyways because Jesus loves us, Jesus is with us, and Jesus – through the gift of faith, the bible, prayer, and the spirit – will keep showing us all the new ways to look at ourselves and the world. 

Each week, I share a reflection for all children of God. The written manuscript serves as a springboard for what I do. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, 7/17/2022.