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Devotion & Formation for Week of October 10, 2021

The leaves are changing and we are seeing signs of Fall!  Our Liturgical Season remains the same.  It is Twentieth Sunday in the Season After Pentecost.

We hear lots of people telling us what we must do or not do to get to go to Heaven.  We hear interpretations of what we must do or not do.  Lets look at what Jesus says to a man who asks him the question.

Bible Story: Mark 10:17-31         

17 As he went out into the street, a man came running up, greeted him with great reverence, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?” 18-19 Jesus said, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good, only God. You know the commandments: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, honor your father and mother.”

20 He said, “Teacher, I have—from my youth—kept them all!”

21 Jesus looked him hard in the eye—and loved him! He said, “There’s one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me.”

22 The man’s face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go. 23-25 Looking at his disciples, Jesus said, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who ‘have it all’ to enter God’s kingdom?” The disciples couldn’t believe what they were hearing, but Jesus kept on: “You can’t imagine how difficult. I’d say it’s easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for the rich to get into God’s kingdom.” 26 That got their attention. “Then who has any chance at all?” they asked.

27 Jesus was blunt: “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it.”

28 Peter tried another angle: “We left everything and followed you.”

29-31 Jesus said, “Mark my words, no one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land—whatever—because of me and the Message will lose out. They’ll get it all back, but multiplied many times in homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land—but also in troubles. And then the bonus of eternal life! This is once again the Great Reversal: Many who are first will end up last, and the last first.”

Meditation:  

The man who asks the question is full of pride as he goes to Jesus.  He lists all the things he has done right, bragging really, and then asks Jesus what else he must do to enter Heaven.  I suspect that he expected Jesus to say, “You are doing everything right!  It is an honor to meet you!  Those listening, look at this good man.”  But that is not what happens.  Jesus tells the man that he does not stand a chance.  He is putting himself first.  He thinks he is better than those around him. 

Jesus tells him, that he cannot get to Heaven by the rules he follows.  He cannot get to Heaven by following a check list.  He cannot get to Heaven by competing with others for being the best.  We get to enter God’s Kingdom by trusting God and knowing that we are not able to get into God’s Kingdom on our own deeds, but are welcomed into God’s Kingdom because of God’s love.  It is only because of God’s grace that we are made worthy to enter the Kingdom of God.

So why do good?  Why make sacrifices?  The answer is simple: Because God loves us more than we can ask or imagine and it is to show him our love.  We choose good because we love and trust a good God.  We choose to do what is right because we are surrounded by love and respond to that love by becoming part of God’s Kingdom.  We are transforming the world into God’s Kingdom as a response to the love of God.

Prayer: Father, we thank you for your grace and love.  We hope that we can do good works, choose to do what is right, love others and give that grace to others.  Through the one who loved us first and showed us how to love, Jesus, your Son. Amen.

Activities (choose one or more to do during the week.  For links, copy and paste):

  1. Discussion questions- What are times that you had a hard time choosing to do the right thing?  How do you know when something is the right thing to do?  What are three ways you can be more loving towards others this week?
  2. Musical response- God is Love https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVGWxkj-rmA
  3. Craft response: Make a heart shape pillow.  You will need two pieces of material, stuffing, needle and thread.  Put the fabric together-wrong side facing out- and draw a heart on one side.  Make the heart bigger than you want the actual heart, but not much.  Once you have the heart you want, cut out the hearts (both material at the same time.  Sew the heart with the wrong sides facing out, but stop once you have ¼ of it left.  Pull/turn the heart material so the correct side is showing (this should hide the sewing line).  Stuff the heart.  Finish sewing the last part so it is closed completely.  You can decorate it or write “God is love” on it. 
  4. Outreach/community service response: Make a heart pillow as above for someone else.  Give it to someone who seems alone or make a few and donate to a nursing home near you.  It would really help cheer up some people’s lives.
  5.  Activity response: Make heart shaped cookies and decorate them.  On each heart, write a letter for God (so it takes three cookies to spell God).
  6.  In-reach response: Arrange the three cookies on a plate from above and give them to members of your family.
  7.  Game response: Make a scavenger hunt and search for things that start with the same letters as “God” and “Love.” 
  8.  Watching the story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63KeSdFUZ_c

Devotion & formation for Week of October 3, 2021: St. Francis

The Feast of St. Francis is a great time to honor creation and our animal friends.  We normally use the first Sunday in October to have a festival and Blessing of the Animals.  We use the day to focus on the care and love for creation, animals, and each other. 

In Our Liturgical Calendar, it is the Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost.

Story: St. Francis

Francis was born in Assisi, Italy in 1182. He grew up leading a privileged life as the son of a wealthy cloth merchant. Francis loved to learn and sing songs as a boy. His father wanted him to become a businessman and taught him about the French culture. As Francis grew up, he began to see visions from God that changed his life. The first vision was when he was sick with a high fever. At first, he thought that God had called him to fight in the Crusades. However, he had another vision that told him to help the sick. Finally, when praying in a church, Francis heard God tell him to “repair my church, which is falling in ruins.”
Francis gave all his money to the church. His father became very angry with him. Francis then left his father’s home and took a vow of poverty.
As Francis lived his life of poverty and preached to people about the life of Jesus Christ, people began to follow him. By 1209, he had around 11 followers living together. He had one basic rule which was “To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps”.
Francis was a devoted follower of God. He and his followers were dirty, poor, and smelled bad. However, eventually people understood their vow of poverty and the church blessed the Order. He loved and cared for the sick, especially the lepers.
The Franciscan Order grew as men joined and made vows of poverty. When a woman named Clare of Assisi wanted to take similar vows, Francis helped her start the Order of the Poor Ladies (Order of Saint Clare). He also started another order (later called the Third Order of Saint Francis) that was for men and women who didn’t take vows or leave their jobs, but lived out the principals of the Franciscan Order in their daily lives.
Francis was known for his love of nature and animals. There are many stories about Saint Francis and his preaching to animals. It is said that one day he was talking to some birds when they began to sing together. Then they flew into the sky and formed the sign of a cross.
One day a brother brought a rabbit who had been caught in a trap to Francis. Francis advised the rabbit to be more alert in the future, then released the rabbit from the trap and set it on the ground to go its way. But the rabbit hopped back up onto Francis’ lap, desiring to be close to the saint.

Francis took the rabbit a few steps into the woods and set it down. But it followed Francis back to his seat and hopped on his lap again! Finally, Francis asked one of his fellow friars to take the rabbit far into the woods and let it go. That worked. This type of thing happened repeatedly to Francis—which he saw as an opportunity to praise the glory of God. If the simplest creatures could be so endowed with God’s wonder.

Fish were also known to obey Francis. Whenever a fish was caught and Francis was nearby, he would return the fish to the water, warning it not to be caught again. On several occasions the fish would linger awhile near the boat, listening to Francis preach, until he gave them permission to leave. Then they would swim off. In every work of art, as Saint Francis called all creation, he would praise the artist, our loving Creator.

It was also said that Francis could tame wild, fierce animals. One story tells of a vicious wolf in the town of Gubbio that was killing people and sheep. The people of the town were frightened and didn’t know what to do. Francis went to the town to confront the wolf. At first the wolf growled at Francis and prepared to attack him. However, Francis made the sign of the cross and told the wolf not to hurt anyone else. The wolf then became tame and the town was safe.

Meditation:  St. Francis was known for his kindness. Love and care for people and animals.  He saw everything as God’s beloved.  It was a wonderful way to look at the world and all of it’s inhabitants. 

All of his actions came from his love of Jesus. 

We all are saints because saints are followers of Jesus and we are all beloved of God.  Through St. Francis, we see how a life lived in love, other than Jesus’ life, can be lived to the fullest.  If we greeted every day with wonder and really looked at everything as a part of God’s kingdom, we can see things with new appreciation. “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all!” (See music)

Prayer: Prayer Attributed to St. Francis, BCP page 864

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.  Grant that we may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console;  to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that
we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Activities (choose one or more to do during the week.  For links, copy and paste):

  1. Discussion questions- St. Francis often called the animals brothers and sisters.  Would it change the way you looked at the animals around you if you called them “Brother Frog” or “Sister Bird”? What are your favorite animals?  St. Francis gave all of his money away to help others, what charities could you help (or would you want to help)?  What about St. Francis do you think it would be good to try in your life or what characteristics would you like to copy?  Do you have a favorite saint?  What can you learn about them?  What are some ways you can care for creation?
  2. Musical response- All Things Bright and Beautiful is our St. Francis Festival theme.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FT_oDqOEGpc .  It has the lyrics.
  3. Craft response: Birdseed cookies to put out: Mix together: 3/4 cup flour, 1/2 cup water, 3 Tablespoons corn syrup, 4 cups birdseed. Use cookie cutters and put mixture inside the cutter.  Put on wax paper to dry.  Once dry, remove cookie cutter and hang with yarn or put out on tree limb.  Or make “Stain-glass“ animals-tear up a bunch of pieces of colored tissue paper then laid them down on a sheet of wax paper. Cover it with another layer of wax paper then very quickly whisked a hot iron over the top. Get images of animals from the internet (coloring page ones work best.) Size them the size for the stain glass then print. Place the animal print on top of a piece of construction paper and cut out both layers with an Exacto knife. Cut the wax paper “stained glass” out to size and glued it to the back. 
  4. Outreach/community service response: Next time you are out at the store, buy an extra bag of dog food or cat food and drop off at the Forsyth County Animal Shelter or other shelter.  They can use any supplies.  Baylee, Deacon Lauren’s Dog, came from Gram Shepherd Rescue.  They can always use donations.
  5.  Activity response: Coloring page;https://www.thecatholickid.com/saint-francis-coloring-page/
  6.  In-reach response: Spend some extra time with your pet.  Put out bird seed for the birds, give an ear of corn for the squirrels.  Find away to help your animal friends.
  7.  Game response:  Play Animal Charades (no talking and you have to guess the animal acted out) or play “Who Am I?”  Stick an animal picture onto each child’s back without them finding out what animal they are.  To find out what animal they are, they will need to ask “yes” or “no” questions. e.g., “do I live in the ocean?”
  8.  Watching the story: St. Francis and Animals: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53EwseKjkh8 and www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUhz19F1W-8

Devotion & Formation for Week of September 26, 2021

On our calendar, this is the Eighteen Sunday in the Season After Pentecost.  The liturgical color of green remains. 

This Sunday, we look at our Old Testament Reading.  Esther is one of only two women who have a Bible “Book” named after them. The other is Ruth. 

Esther reminds me a lot of Cinderella (the king was looking for a wife and gathered all the single girls, each one getting one “date” and he falls in love with Esther.  She reminds me of Belle because she was smart, kind to the servants, and loved to read.  She reminds me a lot of all the Disney princesses!  She was brave, kind, true, hardworking, and beautiful.

Bible Story: Esther Saves her People

Long ago, in a country called Persia (Babylon), there was a king named Achashveyrosh (as known in Jewish…  His Persian name was Xerxes) and a queen named Vashti.  King Achashveyrosh ordered his wife the queen to appear before him at a party so he could show everyone how pretty she was.  When she refused, the king was furious. To make matters worse, a rather nasty man named Haman was one of the King’s advisors.   Haman teased the king that if word got around, no one’s wife would think she had to listen to her husband.  At Haman’s urging, King Achashveyrosh ordered that his wife be sent away forever.

King Achashveyrosh wasn’t happy for long without a queen, so he ordered a search through the kingdom for a beautiful girl to be his bride. All the single girls were gathered and brought to the palace.  There they all attended “classes” to learn to be a princess and how to date a king. It wasn’t too long before the King’s scouts happened upon Esther.  Esther was beautiful, gracious and kind — just what the king was looking for.  Esther would read and comfort the other girls.  Esther was kind and always helped the servants.  Soon everyone wanted the king to choose Esther to be his queen.  When the king met Esther, she read to him.  He fell in love (love at first sight) and in no time at all, Esther was married to the king.

Now Esther was a Jew.  The Jews had been driven out of Israel, their home, about 70 years before and exiled in Persia.  Although they did their best to make a living in this strange land, they prayed that someday they would be able to return to their home.    Esther’s uncle Mordechai, was the leader of the Jews.  Mordechai encouraged Esther to hide her faith from the King and his advisors, which she did.

Haman had, by this time, become a powerful man in the kingdom – Prime Minister of Persia in fact.  He decided that given his rise in power, it would be appropriate for everyone to bow down to him.  But Mordechai refused to bow down to him.  Haman was very angry and asked the King to authorize a royal decree to take everything from the Jews and make them slaves. Haman tricked the king into signing the decree.  It would be a law!
Haman cast lots to determine the day this was to happen.  And so it was decreed that in Adar of the coming year, on the 13th day of the month, all the Jews were to be made slaves, in every province and every nation of the land.  There would be no place to run, and no place to hide.  Everything that belonged to the Jewish people would be taken away and given to the people of Persia.
This is where our brave Queen Esther comes into the picture — Mordechai, having found out about Haman’s evil intentions, sent Esther a message.  He told her what Haman was plotting and asked her to go to the King on the Jews behalf.

Esther was afraid.  She hadn’t been allowed to see the King for a month.  In fact, no one could see him without being invited.  Girls were not allowed in the throne room (the war room).  But she fasted and prayed for three days, mustered up her courage and went to see the king.  Although he was initially surprised, King Achashveyrosh loved Esther and so ordered her life spared and offered “half my kingdom for your wishes.”  She looked around at all the angry men in the room.  She asked only that the King and Haman join her for dinner that night.

At dinner, the king again asked Esther, “Now what is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.”  Esther replied, “My petition and my request is this:  If the king regards me with favor and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet I will prepare for them.  Then I will answer the king’s question.”  Of course, both the King and Haman agreed to attend a second banquet with the lovely young Queen.

Haman was very pleased that he’d been asked to dine with Achashveyrosh and Esther two nights in a row and was filled with pride.  But then he saw Mordecai at the king’s gate and still Mordecai refused to bow to him.  Haman was filled with rage.  He decided that night to punish Mordechai and planned to speak to the king about it the very next morning.  That way, he’d have the whole matter dealt with during the day and be able to enjoy the next evening’s banquet in peace.

That same night the king could not sleep; so he ordered the book of the chronicles, the record of his reign, to be brought in and read to him.  The book was turned to the day Mordecai exposed a plot to assassinate the King.  The King was reminded of this tale and asked what reward Mordecai had received.  The king’s attendants told him that nothing had been done for Mordecai.

The next morning, just as Haman was arriving to ask that Mordecai be imprisoned, the king asked him, “What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?”   Haman, still filled with pride, mistakenly thought the king was referring to him.  So, he answered the king, “For the man the king delights to honor, have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crest placed on its head.  Then let the robe and horse be entrusted to one of the king’s most noble princes.  Let them robe the man the king delights to honor, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, `This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!'”

Imagine Haman’s shock when the King commanded, “Go at once.  Get the robe and the horse and do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate.”   Haman obeyed the king, of course, but not happily!  He was very upset that Mordecai, his enemy, was being honored by the king.  Immediately after leading Mordecai around the city proclaiming, “This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!”, Haman had to go to the banquet with the King and Queen.  

Finally, Esther shared the secret of her faith and proclaimed herself a Jew.  She begged the king to spare her people.  The king was furious with Haman because he loved the Queen and ordered that Haman have the same fate he had wished on the Jews. Haman’s pride and cruelty had led to his own destruction and the brave, young Esther had saved her people.

Meditation:  The story of Esther is one of my favorite stories.  It has murder plots, love at first sight, plot twists, and all set around a woman who was kind, intelligent, and faithful to God.  She was very brave.  Because of her actions, she saved her people.  The Jewish faith still celebrates Queen Esther each February with Purim. 

My daughters grew up loving the Disney princesses (although there were not as many as there are today), but each of the qualities that makes them a hero is found in Esther.  The story of Cinderella is so close to the story of Esther and the story of Aladdin reminds me of the people in Esther (Jafar-Haman, and Jasmine having a mind of her own.)

The courage it took for Esther to go into the throne room was huge.  The king had banished his first queen because she disobeyed.  Esther had no reason to think her life would be spared if she openly disobeyed the law and the king.  She trusted God to give her the strength.

There are times that we are going to fear being laughed at because of our faith or fear of missing out on something because it happens on a Sunday.  When that day comes, I hope we all have the faith of Esther to choose God and our faith.

Prayer:  Thank You, God, for being the source of courage. We praise You for helping us to stand up and do the right thing. Help us be courageous because of You.  Help us to know you are with us through everything.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Activities (choose one or more to do during the week.  For links, copy and paste):

  1. Discussion questions- Which is your favorite Disney princess?  What is it you like about her?  Did you think Esther was brave?  What are things you need to do, but they require you to be brave?  Can you think of times that praying before you do something might help you? 
  2. Musical response: Queen Esther https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXv1ImfILOs, Queen Esther to My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/music/bsc17.htm
  3. Craft response: Make Queen Esther and King puppets: https://sundayschoolzone.com/activity/esther-and-the-king-bible-craft/
  4. Outreach/community service response: Esther loved to read.  Write a story or record yourself reading a story and share with someone either a younger person or someone who has trouble reading because of age.
  5.  Activity response:  Celebrate Purim!  Read to get ideas:https://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/5-purim-fun-jewish-holiday-article-1.2994705
  6.  In-reach response: Help someone in your family be brave and do a project they were dreading (like cleaning up the garage or cleaning out a closet).  Having people who help (like Esther had Mordecai makes everything go easier.  Put on music while you do the project!
  7.  Game response:  Help Esther through the maze https://www.biblewise.com/kids/fun/esther-the-queen.php
  8.  Watching the storyhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IesvJS7_ZNo,  for older children https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SaS_ePAjCvk