A synopsis of the “A Message for All Ages” I presented to our congregation’s children (and adults) on January 22, 2017.
I attended the “Women’s March for America” in Boston yesterday. It was not easy to get to because Boston’s Public Transportation system was overwhelmed by how many people were trying to go, but it was well worth the hassle it took to get there.
I thought it would be good to show you a slideshow of some of the things I saw, as well as talk about what that March means for us and our neighbors.
In this morning’s reading from Amos, we find that Amos uses the concept of a Plumb Line as a metaphor for how God interacts with his people – and all of Creation for that matter.
What is a Plumb Line?
A Plumb line is simply a string with a weight on the end. As shown in the photo here. It is used to determine if something is perfectly vertical, or not. Without a Plumb Line, or something to do the same sort of job, you cannot build a structure of any size, because you will have no way of determining if your walls and pillars or columns are perfectly straight, or leaning. If they are not perfectly vertical, the structure will be weak and likely to fall down. The Sumerians, Egyptians and Jews all used Plumb Lines in the construction of buildings of all types, including their temples. Without them, structures of any size would not be possible.
The thing about a plumb line is that you don’t use it just once. Measuring a wall once it is complete doesn’t do much good because if the wall is “out of plumb,” then you’d need to tear it down and start over. Instead, you constantly use the Plumb Line throughout your construction project, to ensure that the wall is “plumb” as you build it.
Likewise, God is constantly beside us, guiding us, measuring our progress, speaking to us, so that we are “plumb” in our own lives. In Amos’ metaphor, God isn’t a distant, uninvolved god, but a god that is right beside us: involved in our lives at every moment.
Bonus question: So, we know that the Plumb Line is used to make sure walls are built perfectly vertically; but how did the ancients make sure that their foundations, such as the foundation for a temple or pyramid, were perfectly level? (Because if they weren’t, you’d be in trouble even before the first brick or stone was put in place!)
This is a true story from my own life that I’ve used a couple of times for Sermon illustrations. Here it is presented as a longish “Message for All Ages”, but would also be suitable for a youth group session, or a Bible Study. The scripture reading is 1 Kings 19:1-15a, which is about Elijah’s fleeing Jezebel’s wrath and then being confronted by God while hiding in the cave on Mt. Horeb.
A helpful prop for this story would be a 6 foot tall aluminum stepladder, or perhaps a good sized photo of one.
I once had a home with a huge backyard. Since I didn’t want to spend all my time mowing the fenced back yard (and couldn’t afford a bigger mower), I bought some sheep to eat the grass. The male of the three was named Fuzzball by my daughter.
One Sunday, I decided to trim the some dead branches on trees near the house; but quickly realized that my ladder [just like this one] was far too short for the job. It was getting late, so I left the ladder leaning against a tree and went in for the night.
The next morning I opened my bedroom window a bit as I got ready for work, I liked hearing the sheep bleating to each other as they grazed on the grass.
Suddenly, a rather surprised bleat sounded through the window. No big deal – I figured one of them had gotten themselves in trouble again, which they always seemed to be doing. I figured I’d check into it when I fed them before leaving for work, and so kept tying my tie.
Then came a tremendous clatter. Running to the window, I looked out just in time to see Fuzzball running at top speed from the near corner of the yard, where the trees were, to the far corner, where his shed was.
In it, Andrew Seidel raises an interesting point: Jesus had a biological mother, but no biological father. Therefore, even if the Holy Spirit intervened to cause Mary to become pregnant, all of the genetic material was from his mother.
Now, a person of female gender has two X chromosomes (XX) while a person of male gender has an X and a Y (XY). The gender of their child is determined by which chromosome they get from the father – either the X or the Y. But, since Jesus has no biological father, then all of his genetic material would come from Mary, meaning he got an “X” instead of a “Y” and so must be female.
I recently presented this as part of our church’s “Message for All Ages” (being very careful of how I presented it, given that grammar school aged children were present). Then asked the question, “So, what do you think; why isn’t Jesus a Girl?”
As you can imagine, this produced some amazing facial expressions (and answers) from kids and adults like!
The point of this exercise is to challenge our preconceptions of what Jesus must have been like: How can we be sure he was genetically male, or even that he presented himself as a typical male, for that matter? Why do we assume Jesus is just like us?
The challenges of life are like this glass of water. Carry them by yourself for only a short while and it’s not too bad. Worry about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if we carry them all day long, or longer, we will get to the point where we think of nothing but the pain of holding them.
Prop: a half full tumbler of water (needs to be clear glass – not a plastic or paper cup).
If a younger child might be your volunteer, you may want to take steps in anticipation of a spill or the glass being dropped – such as a towel on the floor underneath to use in mopping up spills, and to serve as a soft landing spot.
You can begin the lesson by pointing out – in a humorous way – that this is not a lesson about “Is the glass half full, or half empty?”
Ask for a volunteer to come and hold the cup. Have them hold it at arm’s length, sideways to the audience if possible, so that the water level and any dip of the arm are plainly visible to the congregation.
The video shows us that a word for the color “Blue” usually develops much later in most languages than do words for “Black,” “White,” “Red,” “Green” or “Yellow.” So, the question is “Can people without a word for ‘Blue’ in their language actually see the color we know as ‘Blue’?” The video answers this question by presenting convincing evidence that people have great difficulty in distinguishing Blue from other colors when they have no word for Blue in their language.
This suggests several things – any one of which would be sufficient for a brief “Message for All Ages” – pick the one that suits your situation best…
This is beautiful and fascinating video was created by Ron Miller, a former art director for NASA: he digitally superimposed scale images of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune over the same landscape, showing us how big the other planets would appear if they were as far away as the earth’s moon is from us. (By the way, if the sun were shown from this distance, we’d be completely enveloped within it – a little too close for comfort. …And, if Jupiter really were as far away as the moon, we’d be experiencing tides several HUNDRED times greater than we do now – among many other unpleasant effects!)
Now, this obviously cannot happen – this video is an intellectual and artistic exercise, not reality, and Jupiter isn’t effected one bit by our seeing it in this new way. But, it enhances our understanding of the truth of our existence and of our relationship to Jupiter and the rest of the Solar System in many different ways.
And so to does looking at the Holy Scriptures from different points of view enhance our understanding of The Faith: we see new things, and have a fuller and more comprehensive appreciation of our relationships with each other and with God.
This exercise puts a different spin on to Lent’s theme “putting away of distractions” or the practice of “giving something up for Lent.” The point being made is that Lent’s purpose is to help us to give up to God those the things that we cannot give up on our own.
I’d like to do a little exercise today: I’m going to pass out notecards and ask that we all write down something in our life that we know that we can’t resolve without God’s help. It could be something simple, like losing ten pounds, or something harder, like ending or recovering from a toxic or painful relationship.
Through this, we’ll be practicing Lent as a time for giving up, but not in an abstinence sort of way. Instead, it’ll be a time of giving up to God that which we can’t fix ourselves.
By the second century, the codex was the preferred format for preserving and transporting the written word among Christians evangelists and scholars, and it is thought that the spread of Christianity both drove, and was facilitated by, the adoption of the codex in place of scrolls.
A short history of the codex and why it was so important to the development and spread of Christianity. Portions of this outline were presented in an informal “Message for All Ages” at ARK Community Church in Dalton, MA; Feb 1, 2016.
Prior to the first century CE (or so), nearly all written documents were in the form of single sheets or scrolls.
Because of the difficulty of unrolling scrolls to find particular passages and then having to roll them up again, longer books were often broken up into multiple scrolls. You can see this even today in the segmentation of 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles in the Hebrew Scriptures, both of which were originally single continuous texts.
And, because of the difficulty of managing and storing scrolls, very short books were often collated together into a single scroll. For instance, the 12 minor Hebrew prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Job, Malachi, etc.), were often kept together in one or two scrolls.
The word “Codex” is from the Latin word for “wood” or “block” and is the technical term for a folio of pages stitched together. In other words, a book. The codex was developed by the Romans shortly before the time of Christ, Julius Ceasar may have been the first prominent Roman to use them.
The seeds of the Kingdom of God always surprise us – often originating as what others see as a weed or a nuisance. And yet – they grow and grow and grow, and are unstoppable. … This is how our faith is: small beginnings that produce wonderful results we didn’t know could happen!
This particular lesson looks at the Parable of the Mustard Seed, which is found (with only minor differences) in Matthew 13:31–32, Mark 4:30–32, and Luke 13:18–19.
This lesson works best when presented at the time of the year (May or early June) when the “Garlic Mustard” plant – an invasive weed here in the U.S. – is in blossom. It is often widespread in the understory of forested areas, and can also be found growing in disturbed soils, including along the edges of roads, paths, fences, etc.