SUNDAY REFLECTION FOR YOUTH
may 10, 2020
Doubts. Have you ever had doubts about something? What even is doubt? How would you define it? Maybe as a lack of trust in something? Or a suspicion? A need for more evidence or proof?
Often, after Easter, churches spend a Sunday examining the story about “Doubting Thomas.” After Jesus is resurrected and appears to his disciples, Thomas is suspicious of Jesus. He won’t believe that Jesus is really who he claims to be until he is able to find proof in touching Jesus’ wounds from his crucifixion.
Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”
But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”
After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”
Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”
Usually, Thomas gets “pooped on” for having these doubts. It’s easy to shame him, and look down on him, because he needs evidence before he will believe something that seems impossible. Why is it a tendency of the church to shame people for having doubts? As if we don’t *all* doubt at some point in our lives? Why is Jesus seemingly so mean to him about it in his reply?
Some amount of doubt is healthy. It is good for us to ask questions, and not immediately believe everything we are told. Being skeptical is being smart. The Church (with a big “C” which means the worldwide Church, all of Christianity) has often shamed people for asking any questions at all, and instead encouraged blind faith.
Maybe that is how our society has gotten to a place where people believe any kind of conspiracy theory and wild thing without any facts or proof, because people have been encouraged to blindly believe rather than ask questions. We need a healthy balance.
We have to choose what we will put our trust in and believe without seeing. I am happy to believe in Jesus, and in his death and resurrection, because of everything that Jesus stood for: love, justice, mercy, compassion, and empathy, to name a few. Those are ideas I can get behind and put my trust in without doubting that they are good things.
Be smart – use your brain to ask questions before believing any old thing that people say.
Be smart – believe in, and don’t doubt so much, the people and things you know for a fact are good and loving.
SUNDAY REFLECTION FOR YOUTH
april 19, 2020
This past week in Youth Group we talked about Jeremiah 29:11 and the ideas of destiny and God’s Plan with a capital “P.” First, we talked about how this verse is taken out of context and used all the time for various reasons. Then we discussed whether God has a plan, or a vision, or both.
Let’s go ahead and look at the verse (with some of its context) in Jeremiah 29:4-14.
The Lord of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, proclaims to all the exiles I have carried off from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and settle down; cultivate gardens and eat what they produce. Get married and have children; then help your sons find wives and your daughters find husbands in order that they too may have children. Increase in number there so that you don’t dwindle away. Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because your future depends on its welfare.
The Lord of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, proclaims: Don’t let the prophets and diviners in your midst mislead you. Don’t pay attention to your dreams. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I didn’t send them, declares the Lord.
The Lord proclaims: When Babylon’s seventy years are up, I will come and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me. I will be present for you, declares the Lord, and I will end your captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have scattered you, and I will bring you home after your long exile, declares the Lord.
So looking at this verse in its context, we can see that the story is about the people of ancient Israel (aka God’s people) in exile after being conquered by the Babylonians, a neighboring nation. The people of Israel sought comfort and to know that their God still cared about them and was looking out for them. Makes sense, right? When we are having a difficult time, we all want the reassurance that God still cares about us and hasn’t forgotten us.
So if verse 11 often gets yanked out of this story and applied to our own individual lives, what does that mean? I think we often lose the meaning of this verse when we do this. It was spoken by God, through a prophet, to a whole country’s worth of people. Not just to one person, but many. It’s a message of hope for all of God’s people as a whole, together.
It’s so easy to get tangled up in anxious thoughts about the future, especially our own futures. Does God have a plan for each of us, individually? Does God already know each step we will take and each decision we will make, and that is all part of some big Plan God has made? What if we decide wrong? Does that mess it all up?
I’m not so sure. One of the big points we made in Youth Group was that maybe it helps to think of God having a vision or a dream for us rather than a plan. God has a dream for who we are meant to be – both as all the humans together on the Earth, and for us as individual people.
Imagine the best possible version of yourself. Sometimes our minds jump to our “ideal” selves, of being really good-looking and famous and wealthy, etc. But this is about being our best selves. As Christians, that means being the most loving and kind version of yourself you can be. Money and fame don’t matter to God. What does matter to God is how much love we are carrying in our hearts.
And then, imagine the best possible version of humanity. What would it look like if everyone on the planet became more kind and more loving than anything else? I think it would look like the kingdom of God that Jesus so often talks about in the Gospels.
Jeremiah 29:11, while it is often used for individual comfort, is taken out of context most of the time, and that isn’t good for scripture.
And while we don’t know for sure if God has a Plan with a capital “P” for each one of us, we do know that God has a vision and a dream for who we can be, if we use our freedom to be loving and kind.
Let’s all give God space in our lives to transform us into the best, most kind, most loving people we can be.
SUNDAY REFLECTION FOR YOUTH
april 12, 2020
Happy Easter! Alleluia! Christ is risen!
This morning, it is raining. Imagine if we were in our “normal” routine for Easter – we would have had to move everything for the sunrise service indoors! I definitely miss all of you and the fun we would have had in that chaos.
And yet, here we all are, at home. Maybe we are in our pajamas. Maybe we put on nice Easter outfits to help the day feel more real to us.
It’s hard to celebrate a day of life and resurrection from the dead when so many around the world are dying from COVID-19. It feels like a contradiction. Where do we find our hope today?
Let’s go ahead and read one of our Gospel stories of Christ’s resurrection, Matthew 28:1-10.
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the tomb. Look, there was a great earthquake, for an angel from the Lord came down from heaven. Coming to the stone, he rolled it away and sat on it. Now his face was like lightning and his clothes as white as snow. The guards were so terrified of him that they shook with fear and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said. Come, see the place where they laid him. Now hurry, go and tell his disciples, ‘He’s been raised from the dead. He’s going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ I’ve given the message to you.”
With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples. But Jesus met them and greeted them. They came and grabbed his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my brothers that I am going into Galilee. They will see me there.”
One thing I immediately notice is the phrase “with great fear and excitement.” That is a weird combination of emotions to have at the same time. Think of a time when you had contradictory emotions. One memory I have of this is when my dad talked me into riding the Tennessee Tornado at Dollywood on a 4th grade field trip. I hadn’t ridden an “upside down” roller coaster before and I. Was. Terrified. And yet, at the same time, I could feel my dad’s excitement at sharing this experience with me, and was also thrilled at the same time for the new experience I was about to have. (It was a ton of fun and I have been addicted to thrill rides ever since.)
I think the idea of feeling two very different feelings at once also applies to Easter today. On the one hand, it’s a joyful holiday, and on the other hand, the world is suffering. We are somehow holding joy and sorrow inside at the same time and it’s confusing. Luckily, in reading the story about the two Marys finding the empty tomb and being terrified and excited at the same time, we can know that we aren’t “broken” or wrong for feeling this way. We are just human and sometimes have to sit in that tension.
Tension – that’s the word of the day today. Even in our faith, we hold tension. We believe a pretty wild thing: that God came to live among us about 2000 years ago in human form as Jesus to teach us how to love one another. That humans, in our brokenness and anger, couldn’t accept this message of love. That humans killed Jesus. And the wildest part: that Jesus didn’t stay dead, but came back to life in order to show us that we, too, will one day be brought back from the dead and into eternal life.
In the midst of the world’s events, in death and in suffering, we can know that Jesus is with us in the Holy Spirit, living in us and walking among us unseen. It is okay to celebrate today. It is okay to feel sad today. Feel what you feel and remember that the most important thing is to be loving.
I love you! Happy Easter!
SUNDAY REFLECTION FOR YOUTH
april 5, 2020
Good morning, and I hope you all have been hanging in there. It’s been a ton of fun this past week spending time with you all in the Virtual Youth Loft and at Virtual Youth Group, but it still isn’t the same as being in person.
Have you tried anything new this past week that you don’t usually do when you’re at home, like building something or assembling a puzzle? Reading a book for fun? It might help curb some of the stuck-inside feelings.
Don’t forget to also go outside! You may not be able to go very far, but the fresh air is still good for you.
Well, today is Palm Sunday. At the end of his ministry, after making a big reputation for himself by healing the sick, raising the dead, and turning religion on its head, Jesus entered Jerusalem (the big holy city) and crowds of people came to greet him.
This story is found in all four of the Gospels. Let’s read the one from John 12:12-16:
The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him. They shouted,
Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessings on the king of Israel!”
Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,
Don’t be afraid, Daughter Zion.
Look! Your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt.
His disciples didn’t understand these things at first. After he was glorified, they remembered that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.
My favorite part about this is where it says, “Look! Your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.” Jesus doesn’t appear on a fancy warhorse, or carried by other people on a litter, or anything like that, the way you’d expect a king to. He’s just riding a shaggy old donkey (ok, the shaggy and old part is from my imagination).
My question for you today is: When you read this story, what does it mean to be like Jesus?
What does it mean to follow somebody who rides on a donkey when horses and camels are options?
What does it mean to follow a person who works miracles, becomes famous, and is still so kind and so loving?
What does it mean to serve a God who decided to live among us, despite the consequences of being put to death, simply to show us how much we are loved?
Those are some questions to ponder this Holy Week.
SUNDAY REFLECTION FOR YOUTH
MARCH 29, 2020
Early this morning, a thunderstorm rolled through our area. I don’t know if any of you heard or saw it – I know I usually tend to sleep through storms. I woke up and heard raindrops pounding on my window, and saw flashes of lightning and heard thunder not too far behind. I called my cat, Kurt, to me and we snuggled until the storm was over. I didn’t want him to be afraid, and together, we made it through the storm just fine.
And it got me thinking, all of us are going through a storm right now. There’s lightning: a contagious virus with no vaccine (yet). There’s thunder: the loud fear and panic over the lightning and the damage it does. And there’s the rain: Just the loneliness and the “stuck inside” feeling of rain that won’t stop falling.
How are you doing weathering this storm? Are you feeling rested? Irritated? Sad? Lonely? Enjoying a break? Bored?
Whatever you are feeling, it’s okay to feel that way. If the feelings get to be too much, try writing them down in a journal, or on a piece of paper that you tear up and throw away. Just make sure you express them in a healthy way rather than bottling them up and eventually exploding.
Our scripture reading to reflect on today is basically the whole chapter of Acts 27. I encourage you to read the whole chapter because it’s a whole adventure about Paul’s journey to Rome.
Here’s an excerpt:
When a gentle south wind began to blow, they thought they could carry out their plan. They pulled up anchor and sailed closely along the coast of Crete. Before long, a hurricane-strength wind known as a northeaster swept down from Crete. The ship was caught in the storm and couldn’t be turned into the wind. So we gave in to it, and it carried us along. After sailing under the shelter of an island called Cauda, we were able to control the lifeboat only with difficulty. They brought the lifeboat aboard, then began to wrap the ship with cables to hold it together. Fearing they might run aground on the sandbars of the Gulf of Syrtis, they lowered the anchor and let the ship be carried along. We were so battered by the violent storm that the next day the men began throwing cargo overboard. On the third day, they picked up the ship’s gear and hurled it into the sea. When neither the sun nor the moon appeared for many days and the raging storm continued to pound us, all hope of our being saved from this peril faded.
For a long time no one had eaten. Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have complied with my instructions not to sail from Crete. Then we would have avoided this damage and loss. Now I urge you to be encouraged. Not one of your lives will be lost, though we will lose the ship. Last night an angel from the God to whom I belong and whom I worship stood beside me. The angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul! You must stand before Caesar! Indeed, God has also graciously given you everyone sailing with you.’ Be encouraged, men! I have faith in God that it will be exactly as he told me. However, we must run aground on some island.”
In this story from Acts, Paul is on a voyage to Rome, traveling by ship on the Mediterranean Sea. The boat is hit with a storm and everything looks really bad. I find Paul’s response to all of it hilarious. He basically says, “Yeah, it’s bad, but it’s going to be fine. Well, it’s going to be fine but first we have to crash the ship into land. And that will be bad too, but hey, we’re gonna make it.”
It’s like solving a problem by creating more problems. Have you all ever experienced that? You tried to solve a problem and found yourself with even more problems before solving any of them? Whenever I’m in a situation like this I like calling it a “comedy of errors.” Sometimes things keep going badly until they finally go well.
Right now, we as humanity have been hit with a storm and have smashed our “boat” onto a random island. We haven’t reached the end of this journey and gotten to Rome. But in staying at home and keeping the virus from spreading, it’s kind of like we’re chilling on the island with our busted ship, waiting.
How are you passing the time on your island? How are you dealing with the feelings of being stuck on a random island? Journaling? Exercising? Doing something creative? Building something? If you find yourself with a bunch of energy and nothing to do, try something new this week! Maybe try and build a musical instrument out of some random boxes, etc. Or write a story. Teach your pet a new trick. Learn a new way to exercise. Step out of your normal patterns, and overcome boredom!
And let me know how it's going during my “office hours” on Zoom this week!
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Looking forward to hearing from you all after the weirdest spring break ever!
Weirdest Spring Break Ever? Maybe so. I hope that you haven’t been feeling too stir-crazy in this time of isolation and staying at home. I hope you haven’t been feeling too lonely, either. It’s definitely lonely, especially as a teenager, to feel stuck and unable to hang out with friends.
As much as we might love our family members, too much time spent with anyone can be a challenge! I hope that you are able to find some patience and grace for your family members when you’re feeling irritated with them.
I want to offer a Sunday reflection for you all to read when you have a moment today. We were in the middle of a Sunday School series on the 7 Deadly Sins and 7 Heavenly Virtues, and we will resume that when our church opens back up (idk when that will be yet).
For now, I’ll be posting some short reflections to help keep your head above water in this super weird time.
Our reflection today is on Matthew 13:1-9
That day Jesus went out of the house and sat down beside the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he climbed into a boat and sat down. The whole crowd was standing on the shore. He said many things to them in parables: “A farmer went out to scatter seed. As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path, and birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted immediately because the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up, it scorched the plants, and they dried up because they had no roots. Other seed fell among thorny plants. The thorny plants grew and choked them. Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit, in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one. Everyone who has ears should pay attention.”
Maybe you’ve heard this parable before, maybe not. (Remember, a “parable” is a small story that teaches a big lesson, usually told by Jesus.) It’s one that always challenges me.
You can read it in at least 3 different ways:
Imagine you are the farmer, spreading seeds about. Do you pay attention to where you plant them? In other words, where in your life do you put in a ton of effort and do your best? Have you ever had a time when you put in a ton of effort and got no result? When we put a ton of work into something and nothing happens, it’s super frustrating. A question for thinking about: What are the things worth working for, that are valuable to you, that line up with your gifts and talents and will probably end up with something great? What are some things that you are pouring a ton of energy into that are just not working out?
Imagine you are a seed. What kind of soil are you planted in? Seeds always grow best in healthy environments with lots of nutrients, water, and sunlight. Is your environment “good soil”? Do you surround yourself with kind friends and healthy relationships? Do you drink enough water and eat, like, a vegetable every so often? Healthy plants need healthy environments to live in, and healthy people need the same thing. What can you do this week to make your soil, aka environment, healthier?
Imagine you are the soil. Or more like -- imagine that your inner life is the soil. You could call it your soul, your spirit, your heart. Are you a person where seeds can grow, filled with good soil, nutrients, and worms? (Um, if there are literally worms in you, please go to the doctor). Are you a person filled with sand and rocks, or choked up by thorns, or feeling trampled and worn thin like a trail that people walk all over? It’s good for us to reflect on what kind of “soil” we have within, and figure out what we can do to make our own “soil” better for living. (Step 1: Don’t eat any worms.)
That’s about it for this Sunday reflection. I hope that you all are managing to enjoy Spring Break even though everything is kind of sad and lonely right now. I know I definitely look forward to when I get to see you all again!
P.S. I have been playing the new Animal Crossing game on the Nintendo Switch. If you are lonely and need company, come visit my island! My friend code is SW-3319-8297-7788 (bearnicorn).