I was setting up my nativity characters for chapel this week, and was reminded about a preschool chapel last year that became the central illustration in a sermon I preached on Dec. 20, 2015. The sermon was in the context of a ‘Traveler’s Christmas,’ a Christmas Eve service for those who would be travelling over Christmas. I found the manuscript to that sermon and realized I needed to hear it again this year.
Text: Luke 2:1-20
Last week in preschool chapel here at Grace, the kids were helping me tell the Christmas story. I had a few sets of characters scattered around up front, and together we organized them to look something like a nativity scene. And because I know that epiphany doesn’t come until after Christmas, the kings were a distance away from the rest of the animals and characters. Someone noticed this and said, “the kings don’t have a star to follow!” Without missing a beat, the kid sitting next to me holding the picture Bible put it down and jumped up, saying, “I can be a star…like this!” and he spread his arms and legs out while we sang “Go, tell it on the mountain.”
I tell you that story tonight because it was a moment full of joy and life that I just can’t get out of my head. But also, the more I think about it, the more I think that kid got it right. For many of us, this story we read in Luke 2 is really familiar, and every year we arrange the various pieces of our nativity sets to illustrate the story…and then we stand back and admire it from a distance. In fact, I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we keep the whole message of Christmas at a distance. We distract ourselves with questions about the historical accuracy, the literary details, the cultural specifics. Maybe we honor the traditions of those around us. Maybe we even find meaning in these traditions for ourselves. But, for the most part, we keep this God who breaks into the world at a distance.
Continue reading Put down the book and get into the story
In pondering the sermon for this Sunday, I discovered that I actually had two sermons. This is the one that won’t get preached.
Text: Matthew 5:13-16
In the movie Lion King, Simba is born into greatness. A descendant of the king, he is told from a young age that he will one day rule over the pride land. He doesn’t do anything to deserve this honor. It’s just who he is. It’s his identity—not because of who HE is, but because of who his father is. And Simba is raised to be confident and comfortable in this calling. He can sing and dance with his friends, saying, “I just can’t wait to be king,” because his calling is clear to him.
But then he starts listening to other voices. After a serious accident, Simba listens to his uncle who tells him he has failed at life and must run away. And Simba does. He runs away and loses sight of who he was born to be…he loses sight of his calling.
Continue reading The 2nd sermon: “Remember who you are”
Yesterday I watched camp counselors guiding a group of senior high youth through an intermediate level ropes course challenge activity. It was a pretty basic challenge–wearing a harness, climb the rope ladder and walk the elevated course of steps, platforms and wires, and then zipline your way back to the ground.
As I watched and listened to the counselors and students, I found myself choking back tears. Particularly, I watched the student from my group face an initial case of nerves as she pondered whether she would really be able to complete the challenge. The girls around her helped her get into her harness, buckle her helmet on, and string the ropes and clips around her shoulders when it was her turn. She hooked the billet clip into her harness as the counselor assured her that he would support and guide her on her way up. The counselor already up on the platform in the trees reminded her that she was watching and would help her transfer her clips to the right wire when she got to the top of the rope. Continue reading It’s not just about the ropes
Yesterday in Preschool Chapel, I was trying to get some kids’ attention who were talking to each other. So I called out to them, “boys, are you with me?” From the opposite side of the group, where I wasn’t even looking, I heard a little voice say, “I’m with you, Sister Michelle!”
It was such a sweet moment. And it hit me…isn’t that what so many of us want to hear? “I’m with you!” When we hear that from people in our lives, so much anxiety and fear melts away. We are not alone. Someone is with us.
It was not lost on me, then, the words that Jesus said to his disciples: “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
And then I wondered, “who am I saying those words to? Who needs to know that I am with them?”
Once again…lessons from a 4-yr. old.
I’ve been on the road a bit recently, so haven’t been in worship very consistently on Sundays. This past Sunday, I got back to church just a few minutes before the end of the service. As everybody was leaving the sanctuary, I stood in the narthex to greet people in my usual way. As an adult came up to greet me, I noticed a 4-yr. old notice I was there. I haven’t seen this little girl for a few weeks–between my schedule and hers, we’ve been missing each other on Sundays. I turned to talk to the adult as the 4-yr. old wrapped her arms around my legs. I patted her on the back, but gave most of my attention to the adult. As I finished my conversation with the adult, I heard a voice say, “Michelle!” and felt a tug on my pants. I looked down and saw this little girl giving me a look that said, “I’m here…pay attention.” She just said, “hi.” I gave her my full attention, then, and we had a sweet moment of reunion. Continue reading Lessons from a 4-yr. old
At a Deaconess Board Retreat, this question was posed:
“Think of one person in your context…what is that person teaching you?”
The first person who came to mind for me was a 4 yr. old in my congregation. When she’s there on a Sunday morning, this little girl sits with her parents until the children’s sermon. When it’s time for the children’s sermon, she runs up and sits directly next to the pastor on the steps of the altar space. She listens intently to the children’s sermon, with her own stream of comments and questions that show she’s thinking…sometimes about what the pastor is talking about. At the end of the children’s sermon, the pastor says, “if you are age 3-grade 5, you can follow Sr. Michelle to KidsTown.” I start walking down the aisle, and as I get to the baptismal font near the entrance to the sanctuary, almost every week I hear this voice calling out, “Michelle! Wait for me!” I turn around and see this 4 yr. old running down the aisle, passing the other kids to get to the front of the line, where she slips her hand into mine and says, “I’m coming to KidsTown today.”
So what is this 4 yr. old teaching me about my call, about my ministry, or about what God is saying to me at this time?
Continue reading What is she teaching you?
Today’s word was ‘sacrifice,’ and our conversation over breakfast circulated again around Phil. 2. My reflection is that acts of sacrifice are important…adopting kids, selling everything to move overseas, living on one income to spend more time volunteering, etc. yes…perhaps we should do that more often as Christians. But what struck me from the text is that it says, “your ATTITUDE should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing..” More than acts of sacrifice, I think scripture calls for attitudes of sacrifice. And that doesn’t have to mean big things. That can mean letting someone have the last word in a discussion. It can mean being patient with interruptions to the schedule. It can mean consistently putting others before yourself. That will probably lead to some acts…but it starts with attitude.
Continue reading Wednesday in Jamaica: Maroons and Blue Mountain coffee
I’ve been getting surprisingly challenging questions from kids recently. Last week in preschool chapel a group of kids came in obviously eager to engage me in a conversation they had been having on their own. The first kid comes up to me and says, “Sister Michelle, I have a difficult question for you.” I asked him to pause as I put on my thinking cap, and when I was ready for his difficult question he went on with, “Where do you think Heaven is?” I told him that was a difficult question and asked him if he had any thoughts about it. Before he could really follow up with me, another kid rushed up to me and said, “I have a question for you. Where does God get his power from?” Continue reading Big questions from young minds