Noah Jr. & The Ark: An Earth Day Children’s Message


 

(The following is an Earth Day Children’s message delivered on April 22nd at Asbury Church)

I like to consider myself an out of the box type preacher, and sometimes the best way to do that is with props.     Some folks will loudly criticize the use of props in church, believing that you will only remember the prop and not the story.   If you know me, you know how strongly I disagree.  Seldom does a week pass where there isn’t some random object that takes front and center.

With that said, that group of “haters” would most certainly – and without any doubt – have a HUGE issue with the prop I used on Earth day.    Inside a paper bag, was a collection of two dozen Canadian Earth Worms in all their squirming beauty.    In an instant I had all the kids attention; especially the boys.

(Best Quote of the day?   “We have got the coolest pastor EVER!  He brings worms into church and plays street hockey with us after!” Could children’s ministry be that easy????)

With a mound of worms in one hand, I told my own twist on an old Jewish legend that was told to young children to remind them of the importance of taken care of the earth.

It was a story about Noah’s Ark.   We all know that Noah and his wife were on the ark, but there were more than those two on the ark.   Also on the ark were Noah’s sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.  They came with their wives.

One particular legend has it that they also had children that came with them on the ark.   Although the Bible isn’t clear on this, our story takes place with the youngest son of Ham,  Noah Jr.  who was named after his grandfather, of course.

As you can imagine building an ark is hard work.  Everyone worked hard in building and preparing the ark, but the kids probably worked the hardest.    There job was to haul the wood, and the supplies.   They were the manual labor while their parents did all the cool stuff, like measuring, sawing, and hammering.    Sadly, their job got even harder when it started raining

It was the kids that cleaned the stalls.  (Can you imagine the incredible amount of animal poop on the ark?)  They were also the ones to make sure that everyone ate what they were supposed to.   They were the ones to make sure the animals were clean.    They were the ones that made sure the wolves didn’t eat the rabbits, and the tigers didn’t make lunch out of the llamas. 

Of all the kids on board the ark, none took this responsibility more seriously than Noah Jr. Noah Jr was a special kid.   He loved animals more than any of the others.   He wanted to grow up and become a zoologist or zookeeper and take care of animals all on his own.    Seeing this, the adults gave Noah Jr. a great deal of responsibility.

On the day that the flood started, Noah Jr. was given the incredible responsibility of making sure all the animals were safely on the ark.   With a clipboard and a pen, he would check off the animals as they arrived.   

  • Llamas – check.  
  • Aardvarks – Check.  
  • Emus – check.

When he was thought he was all set, he took his clipboard to his grandfather and said they were ready. Noah Sr. scanned the list and said “I think you are missing the most important ones” and with a smile handed the clipboard back to the boy. Panicked the boy scrambled back to the cages.

  • Penguins – check.  
  • Sloths – check.  
  • Giraffes – check.

After a while he was convinced that his grandfather was wrong and went back with the clipboard.   “Grandpa, are you sure?” the boy asked respectfully.    “Yes, I am sure.   You are missing the most important pair” Noah told the boy. He immediately went back to his inventory.

  • Hippos- Check.  
  • Duck Billed Platypus – Check. (Playtipi?)
  • Panda Bears – Check.

He just couldn’t for the life of him figure out what he had missed.   He started to worry that his grandfather had finally gone crazy like all the townspeople had claimed.    He watched the rain grow heavier and heavier.   Finally in a panic and tears coming from the stress, he ran back to Noah Sr. and asked for help. Noah Sr., in a kind and loving voice, smiled at the boy.“I am not crazy, you have indeed forgotten the most important of all, but I will tell you for time is getting short.”

And do you know what was forgotten from the ark?

With the squirm firmly in hand, I raised the worms for the congregation to see.   The boy had forgotten the earth worms.  In a panic, the boy dashed down the gangplank of the ark, reached a patch of now wet grass and started digging.    Finally he scooped up some dirt and mud with a handful of worms and dashed back up and into the ark.   When he made in on board the ark was locked, and the worms safely stowed.

After a while, the boy went to his grandfather and asked why those worms were the most important….

Noah smiled, and said simply…  

“I don’t know why they are so important, that is between God and the worms.”

 ******************* 

They used to tell this story to the young children to remind them that like Noah’s grandchildren they had a responsibility.   They were to take care of the earth, and that included not only the big and beautiful animals like Giraffes and Elephants and people, but even the lowliest like the Canadian Earthworm…  

In the end, God has a plan for us all, and even for the worms.   God has plans, even if those incredibly wonderful plans are between them and God only.

With the story of Noah and Noah Jr as a backdrop, I am sure that we all have heard the story of God putting the rainbow in the sky as a promise to never forsake or forget the world again.    Many people – adults included – believe that is a promise between God and humankind, but it’s not. 

The actual words from Genesis are this:   “I will set my rainbow in the sky, as a sign of my promise between ME AND THE EARTH”.

Obviously the world, the earth, and all of creation is important to God.  In the end, if it’s important to God…then it needs to be important to each of us.    There is no better reminder of that for us than the reminder of Earth Day on a Sunday.

For Earth Day and in the days that follow, I pray that each of us find some small thing to do to show God that we are willing to help take care of the earth too.    Maybe you pick up some trash outside.   Maybe you recycle.   Maybe you be really careful about wasting water or electricity.   As you do that talk to your family about ways you could change things or help make a difference.   

Did you know that one soda can will make it from your recycle bin, back to the grocer’s shelf in 90 days?   Better yet, if one can is recycled it saves enough power to run a television for three hours.    The average American family recycles 150 six packs worth of cans each year.    Imagine what we could do if people of faith started to see creation care as an even more important piece of their faith.

Heavenly father, we thank you for all the wonderful gifts and blessings that you have given to each of us.    Among those many gifts, today we celebrate the gift of our world and our planet.    Help us to realize all there is to enjoy around us, and help us to see how everything is precious in your eyes.

On this day set apart for caring for your planet, help us to remember that as Christians we are called to be stewards of all your gifts, and that includes the earth.   Help us to find ways to practice that stewardship not only today but every day…and for all the gifts you have given to us.

We ask that you continue to bless all of your children, young and old, and may each of us continue to grow in the awareness of your presence and your call in our lives.    In your name we pray, Amen.

 (Pic, by Racineur, Flickr.com, 7/7/2007, Creative Common License)

The Italian Winemakers…


Photo by elfidomx, 2010-CCLEvery now and then I find a quote that I like and it sticks with me.    It becomes almost a game to figure out how to work that quote in the coming and the going of my life.   In the end, it finds its way into the occasional Facebook status, sermon moment, or carefully timed zinger.

This week the quote that got my attention was from John D. Rockefeller, who said; “With every right comes a responsibility; every opportunity an obligation; and every possession a duty”.  I like this quote.    They remind me of Spiderman’s Uncle Ben’s advice that “With Great Power comes Great Responsibility”* 

As I stewed on Rockefellers catchy words, a story came across my desk that spoke to them perfectly.   The story takes place in a small mountain town deep in Italy.   In addition to making a great point that we need to here as a people of faith, the opportunity to encourage and embrace the Italian culture and my Italian heritage made the illustration irresistible to me.

Deep in those sublimely gorgeous mountains of Italy, there stood one of the most prosperous patches of farm land in the whole of Europe.    Overtime every crop imaginable was grown there, and eventually the inhabitants decided to devote every inch of their land to the most noble and most sought after of all crops;  the grape.    In just a few generations, the vineyards that were in this small patch of land became some of the best and most famous wine producing plants in the world.  The demand for their wine was beyond their richest expectations.

As you can imagine, with everyone growing grapes in this small town it soon became evident that they would be in trouble if they could not find anyone willing to sell them all the other services and products of life.   The village was quickly falling into disrepair.  Despite their ever increasing wealth and the great success of their vine, the town was in trouble.

It wasn’t long before the roads started to crumble.   Next, a bridge collapsed.   Before they knew it, it was next to impossible to get their wine to market, many miles away.   Things got serious fast.

Thankfully, a town official had an idea.     In order to build a new bridge and repair the roads, every family would be expected to give a few barrels of wine to the town in the way of a tax.  They built a giant barrel, as large as a building, and it stood at the center of town.

It turned out that each family that made wine had their own unique way of making it, and each was almost as heavenly tasting as the next.    What was truly wonderful and entirely unexpected in the town’s edict, was what resulted when they put all the wines together, and allowed them to ferment together.  The resulting product was far beyond anything they had ever tasted, and they were soon commanding unheard of prices for their wine.     It was a beautifully simple secret recipe.

Slowly they were able to raise enough money to keep up with the repair and infrastructure of their town.   It was always a battle and they always had just enough, but they were enduring.  They were making it through.  They even started to hold a great wine festival and year after year people came from everywhere just to be a part of it.

Unfortunately do to some blips in weather and a problem with some of the soil, one particular harvest was less than what anyone expected.    After looking at his harvest, one particular farmer was worried that he would no longer be able to get enough from his sales to live a standard of life that was comfortable.  He began to stress and as a result thought of a rather devious solution.

When it came time to put his wine into the giant barrel at the center of town, instead of wine, he would fill his barrels with water.    There was so much wine in that giant, communal barrel, that his few would more than likely go unnoticed.     Despite the guilt that this elicited, a few days later the man made his donation of water.

It wasn’t long before he forgot about his deed.

Finally, the day arrived for the great wine festival to be celebrated.  It was met with a joy that the town had rarely, if ever, seen.  That joy was even more complete, considering the harshness of the weather that everyone had finally pulled through.    Many came from miles away, looking to buy as much as they could of that wonderful wine.   Many called it the wine of God, and they had been preparing for months for the journey to the small town.   The anticipation was great and contagious.

Finally the time came to tap the keg, and begin the sale.   The mayor came out to a roar of cheers.   After an official proclamation he announced that the time had come, and with the strike of a hammer tapped the barrel.

To the shock and awe of all who saw it, instead of wine pouring out….  It was water.     Everyone stood around that keg in silence as the realization of what they were witnessing dawned on each of them.   Each of the villagers had chosen to fill their barrels with water.

In the end, no one trusted in what they had.   They started to look at all that they had and come to the conclusion that it wasn’t enough.   They wanted to keep all that was theirs.     On that wine festival there was no wine to be had.    In the days that followed there were no new roads and no new bridges.   The trust faded, and no one was willing to put wine in the barrel again. They had held back, and now there was nothing.

It is said that even today if you find this village you would never know it.   The vineyards are all gone.  Instead of great hills of grapes, you know have asphalt and factories and tenement houses.     If you look hard enough you can even see the spot where that giant keg stood…   Interestingly enough it is the poorest part of the town.

I am sure that this is almost entirely internet folklore, but the illustration is perfect for our purposes.   Although we are not farmers, we are in a way making wine.    Wine is a Biblical metaphor that is often used for the Gospel, and so in a way we are planting the seeds and we are farmers of a different sort.

Like the townspeople mixing different versions of wine to produce something infinitely more wonderful, the same can be said of the church.   We come to our family of faith bringing more than we can imagine.   It’s in the diversity that accompanies our presence that the fullest flavor of who we are as a community is realized.  Once that flavor is released to the world, the wine that we offer is irresistible.

Yet, there is risk in our faith.   The risk is that as we all work towards that great festival moment, we too can find ourselves doubting what we have.   We can find ourselves asking is it enough?  Our gut might even be telling us that we need to hold things back.

We should heed the warning of those villagers, because there have been a great number of churches who when the barrel is tapped the richest of wine, or God’s wine, it doesn’t pour.    Because they held back the wine is lost.

The most often forgotten component of our faith is risk.

We are people who are called to reach out and to give all they are to the wine we are fermenting through the church.    When we find ourselves uncomfortable or facing risk, we need to take a deep breath and trust God.   We need to remember and celebrate that we are all in this together, and that day of festival, comes only when we all move towards it; together.

(Photo by elfidomx, 2010 – CCL)

Open Hearts, Doors, Minds… And Mouths?


In Psalm 81; there is a promise that was most beautifully made:   “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it!”    Billy Graham used to say that those words” paint a mental picture of the baby bird in a nest, mouth wide open, shaking with anticipation over those few morsels that mama bird is just about to give”.   

As I think about those wide mouthed birds I realize that we are all like that, or at least we should be.   I also think we make it harder than it needs to be.   We find ourselves fighting God, and the process and in the end we stumble.    I believe with every ounce of my being it is hardest to walk away.   Its more natural to stop and listen.   

When I told this to a seeker, they said I was naïve.  They said that faith was just about the hardest thing we can do.    I told him that if it is something we do, its impossible.   We need to open ourselves up to God doing for us.    Faith is certainly hard when we try to control or direct it.    Faith is exponentially easier if we let God drive.    After some thought, I talked to that seeker about three steps that might help.  After some thought, I started to believe that these are steps that get the train moving. 

Step One:   Be Open and Honest.

Step one is about opening up about your faith, your hopes, and your doubts.    Turn to someone you trust and talk about faith, and about what you believe.    If you look around, and there is no one you feel comfortable turning to; click the “About Scott” link where you will find name and my email.  We’ll share a coffee, or an email, and certainly a conversation.  Isaiah 1 says “Come let us reason together.”   Those conversations are how our faith grows, and conversations are needed.   One of the promises of our church is that there will always be someone to have those conversations with. 

Step Two:   Be With God

Step two is insuring that you are in the right place to hear him.   Put yourself in places where God tells you he will be.    He will most certainly be found in the pages of our Bible and in the pews during worship on Sunday, but he can also be found in the moments of devotion, discipleship, stewardship, and service.    Put yourself in those moments.  Surround yourselves with them.   The Lord can certainly speak to us through and in all places and times, but it certainly helps for us to find those places where we will hear him loudest and clearest, or to find those places when the volume of the rest of the world is at its lowest. 

Step Three:  Turn to God

Step three is simply to reach out to him.   Don’t be afraid to get down on your hands and knees, or in the quiet of your regular day to day, and talk with him.   Whether your prayer life is more traditional and recognizable… or if its like mine; and occurs throughout the regular aspects of your day (like a commute to work)…  You need to take the time to not only listen, but to open your own heart. 

Jesus tells us in Luke 11, that if we want answers, if we want to be filled, and if we want the relationship, the promise and the treasure, then we need to pray, and we need to pray with boldness and persistence.   We need to be in that life long, two way conversation with God.   We will schedule doctor’s visits, appointments at the bank, and even time for our pastimes….We need to schedule time with God too. 

Our faith isn’t difficult, but its ownership and the choice is ours.   We can continue to be afraid to make the full commitment and miss the treasure right here for us to take, or we can finally stand up and say yes.    We can reach the point where we want him more than breath.     We can reach that point, and thankfully the choice is ours.  It’s about time that we, as a church, not only open our hearts, our minds, and our doors…but our mouths as well.

(Over time, I have come realized there is at least a fourth step:   Don’t fight it.   Let God talk, and listen.    When times get rough or challenging, ask yourself:   Are you fighting God?   If so, stop.   It makes things exponentially easier!  I would love to hear agreement or disagreement on these steps…)

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