Salvation is Right Now

Year B, Fourth after Pentecost, Lectionary Reading for June 20 2021, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

I can’t do it, folks. I can’t believe that Christianity is a get-to-heaven system of checklists. I can’t believe that we have a whole beautiful book of scriptures and a 2000 year history of tradition and liturgy all for what happens when we die. Is Christianity a faith, or an insurance policy? Do we sing praises, pray regularly, and give to the poor just to bribe God into letting us into God’s kingdom?

I really hope there’s a heaven where angels strum harps on clouds, where we get to see our long-departed friends and family, all in perfect health and happiness, and where we will effortlessly live in the presence of God for eternity. That would be amazing! But do we really have to wait until we die? And is that the whole point? This passage from second Corinthians is one of many scriptures that refutes the idea that salvation is only for later. Here are 2 of my favourites:

Nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.

Luke 17:21

And saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Mark 1:15

Jesus is telling us that the Kingdom of God is right here, right now, not just in the future. I love the way this video from the Bible project illustrates how Jesus’ ministry opened pockets of heaven here on earth wherever he went:

This brings me to today’s storybook. People tend to think of happiness as a goal to achieve, just like heaven. But we can choose happiness by choosing to live in God’s presence. God is always “at hand,” always available, always ready to be grasped. Even in moments of suffering, we can reach for God and find a little piece of heaven within our pain.

Julie Berry’s book Happy Right Now explores this idea from a child’s perspective. Sometimes it will rain, sometimes we have to say goodbye to a treasured friend, and we don’t always get the puppy (or friendly dragon) we want, but even in these difficult circumstances, we can choose how we react.

This book offers readers a list of helpful ways to cope with sadness, anger, and other overwhelming emotions. One page in particular shows the main character sitting quietly, taking deep breaths, and letting herself relax. Christianity has a long history of contemplative prayer as a way of listening to and connecting with God. Let’s celebrate that tradition with our children!

Contemplative prayer can be as simple as quieting your body, sitting silently, and letting go of surrounding distractions with a special word or phrase. I like to use “peace of Christ” when I get distracted, but you can help the children in your ministry choose a word of phrase that works for them. Sometimes children feel like they don’t know what to “say” to God in prayer; this is a great way to demonstrate that listening to God is equally important.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • Where is heaven? How do you get there?
  • Is God far way when you pray, or right there with you?
  • What could make you happy forever?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • Which of the strategies in the book have you already used to feel better?
  • Does following Jesus mean you will always be happy?
  • Do you have to be happy all the time?

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Teaching and Learning Sacrifice

Year B, Lent 5; Hebrews 5:5-10; Lectionary reading for March 21, 2021

If Jesus is the Word, the Logos, the blueprint for our lives, we too must suffer and sacrifice ourselves for others. For most of us, that doesn’t mean sacrificing our actual bodies, but we must learn that sometimes we have to put our own comfort aside for the benefit of other people. Many adults struggle with offering their time, talents, and treasures to help others, so how can we teach young children, who are naturally self-centered, this tricky idea? Once again, a storybook to the rescue!

When I first read Manjhi Moves a Mountain, I thought it was a beautiful allegory. The people of a mountain village struggle to go about their daily lives, climbing over a mountain top to get to school, medical care, and jobs. Manjhi decides that life would be easier if there was a road through the mountain and sets about to build one with the hand tools he has. The villagers think he’s crazy, but after years of sacrificing every spare moment to the task, a road begins to take shape.

The best part? It’s not just an allegory; it’s a true story!

Questions to ask before you read:

  • Tell me about a time you helped someone else. Did you have to give up something you wanted to do in order to help them?
  • Tell me about a time someone helped you. What fun things could they have been doing instead?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • How did Manjhi have the courage to keep going with the villagers made fun of him?
  • Why do you think it took so long for the villagers to start helping Manjhi?
  • How did Jesus have the courage to stand up to the religious authorities?
  • How can you find courage to help you through the tough things you know you have to do?

Churnin, Nancy. Manjhi Moves a Mountain. Creston Books, 2017.

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Planting Seeds, Planting Love

Year B, Lent 5; John 12:20-33; Lectionary reading for March 21, 2021

Please, plant some seeds. Right now, go to the store and buy some nice big seeds, or better yet, ask a farmer in your congregation to give you some actual wheat seeds, and plant them with your little ones. Fill a jar with dirt, push some seeds down along the sides so you can see them, and witness death and resurrection.

Once you’ve done your planting, choose one of the dozens of great storybooks about seeds and gardens. Some that I wanted to write about but didn’t:

Seriously, so many splendid books. But today, we will plant something a little… unorthodox.

As a general rule, I add every new Peter H. Reynolds book to my library, and when he works with Amy Krouse Rosenthal, it’s twice as magical. Plant a Kiss features simple rhyming text to capture the attention of very young children, but the illustrations and the message will equally interest older children.

Rather than plant a seed, a little girl plants a kiss to the skepticism of those around her. But just as one kernel of wheat that falls and dies produces many seeds, the one kiss multiplies to bring joy to everyone in the community. Towards the end, the little girl runs out of kisses to share and walks away from her empty bowl. Take that opportunity to ask how the little girl might feel, having given away everything she harvested. How would the children in your congregation feel if they made a batch of cookies and gave them all away, getting none for themselves?

Questions to ask before you read:

  • How do you think a seed feels when it is planted?
  • What happens to the seed underground?
  • How does a seed transform into more seeds?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • We can’t really plant kisses, but what are some ways we can spread love?
  • If you could plant things other than seeds to make the world a better place, what would you plant?

Rosenthal, Amy Krouse. Plant a Kiss. HarperCollins, 2011.

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