Jesus as Cornerstone

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Matthew 21: 42 Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes”?
43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’
In this passage, Jesus is quoting Isaiah (a prophet from the Old Testament) who said:

14 Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scoffers
who rule this people in Jerusalem.
15 Because you have said, ‘We have made a covenant with death,
and with Sheol we have an agreement;
when the overwhelming scourge passes through
it will not come to us;
for we have made lies our refuge,
and in falsehood we have taken shelter’;
16 therefore thus says the Lord God,
See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone,
a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation:
‘One who trusts will not panic.’
17 And I will make justice the line,
and righteousness the plummet;
hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and waters will overwhelm the shelter.

In a lot of ways, this passage is similar to the story of building your house on a rock that we explored last week, although it is also different. I think a key difference in this story is the idea that actually Jesus as a cornerstone is not necessarily a safe, logical choice (unlike the obvious firm foundation of building on a rock vs. sand). In this story, the builders, who know a lot about logical, safe ways to build, have rejected this stone altogether, not only have they not seen it as a cornerstone. The imagery of the natural disasters (floods and hail) in Isaiah is also interesting – it seems that it is actually a cleansing sort of disaster with positive effects, not only something to withstand.

I think in a lot of ways this connects well as we start to move into Holy Week. This story in Matthew, for example, comes towards the end of Jesus’ ministry. He is again trying to get the disciples to understand who he is and is quoting the Old Testament to try to explain that – he is the fulfillment of what was promised, he is the messiah even though he is not the sort of messiah (strong military leader) who the people were expecting. The gospel of Matthew is the one most known to have been written for a Jewish audience who would have been very familiar with this story from Isaiah, and to appeal to them the writer of Matthew is trying to convince them of Jesus’ connection with the ancient Jewish tradition.

This week we spent time again building with rocks and talked about which stones would make the strongest/best bases to build from and which would be the hardest to build on top of. We talked about the shaping effects that the different types of bases have on what comes above (analogy being when we base our lives on different things, the actions and words that follow are different). We talked about different types of success and how even though we often want to build the tallest or strongest tower, this is not the only type of success.

The wise man built his house upon a rock (song)

You might have heard your kids singing this song about the story this week! Here are the lyrics so you can sing it at home. Also, some of the kids had fun adding their own verses to the song – this is another way to extend the metaphor!

The wise man built his house upon the rock

The wise man built his house upon the rock

The wise man built his house upon the rock

And the rain came tumbling down

Oh, the rain came down

And the floods came up

The rain came down

And the floods came up

The rain came down

And the floods came up

And the wise man’s house stood firm.

The foolish man built his house upon the sand

The foolish man built his house upon the sand

The foolish man built his house upon the sand

And the rain came tumbling down

Oh, the rain came down

And the floods came up

The rain came down

And the floods came up

The rain came down

And the floods came up

And the foolish man’s house went “splat!” [clap hands once]

Build your house on a rock

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The focus for the multi-age group last week was being “doers” and not just “hearers”  from the story about building your house on a rock (Matthew 7:24).
We had the kids in their multi-age groups build houses on different foundations – the youngest age group having a nice, firm foundation of play-doh and the oldest group having the added challenge of a table on a slant! As we told the story, we used these structures built by the kids to illustrate the differences – especially when we tested the structures with rains (sprayed from a bottle), winds (blowing), and earthquakes (shaking the table).
For station time, we had the kids continue with a building project/activity focused on different building materials and eco-friendly building, games that involve listening to instructions in a variation on pin the tail on the donkey (with the added challenge of having wrong instructions being called out too!), and a continuation of our pink shirt day anti-bullying project (with a focus on not just being silent when we learn about bullying but being active in taking a stand against it).

There are two aspects of this story that are often picked up on – one is that we should build our houses on rocks, i.e. have a stable foundation for our lives and take care in planning, etc. and secondly not merely to listen to the words of Jesus and to be passive about faith but to be active and to take things to heart. I think these things can connect well when we think about Lent – many spiritual practices are about having a firm groundedness in our own bodies and our spirituality/relationship to God and then also to try to live out our faith actively by taking on spiritual disciplines and choosing for ourselves something that will be a challenge for us.

This text can be sort of problematic too, though, particularly in a more literal way – i.e. what about people who don’t have the resources to build their houses out of sturdy materials? What about people whose homes are destroyed by natural disasters? This story can seem to be a bit of an “everyone for themselves” sort of thing where people are supposed to just take care of themselves and it can sort of be implied that we don’t have any responsibility for other people.
At it’s best, though, I think this passage can be about being proactive. What are the practices and routines that we can set up for ourselves that will ensure the best foundation for faithful and ethical living? I think about how if I have enough sleep I am better equipped to live in the ways I want to, if my house is clean and tidy I am much more likely to be hospitable and able to have people over at a moment’s notice, if I’m on top of my work I am much more likely to be graceful when interruptions come, etc etc. And when I think about being a doer and not merely a hearer of the word I think about all of the values I’d like to espouse and think are important but have to ask whether I act on all of that as much as I should, etc.
What are the practices that as a family help you to be grounded?
What are some of the storms/winds/challenges that you encounter?

Going back 100 years to 1915

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As many of you know, Fairlawn (well, the first of the churches that amalgamated into what is now Fairlawn!) is celebrating 100 years this year. This Sunday, we celebrated in a special way by having a service in the style of 1915. The kids were no exception – and the tweens did a great job of helping to lead some fun stations (after our more serious 1915 style “lesson”) about how kids might have had fun 100 years ago!

When we re-designed Fairlawn’s Sunday School to become Spirit Space last year, one of the things we spent a lot of time looking at was how the context has changed a lot but Sunday School, in some ways, hadn’t. Last Sunday was a good chance to explore some of the context of the earlier part of the Sunday School movement! Here is an article for more information on the history of how Sunday Schools developed! http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/asktheexpert/whendidsundayschoolstart.html

David and Goliath and Bullying

This past Sunday we continued our journey through Lent with a focus on the theme of rocks by looking at the Biblical story of David and Goliath. The traditional interpretation of the story tends to focus on how, with God, even people who are small and seem to have the odds stacked against them can defeat giants. While there can be some good metaphors drawn from such an interpretation, nonetheless it still describes a violent response and a violent victory as somehow being God’s will – and doesn’t explore the possible complexities of Goliath’s life and motivations.

As Pink Shirt Day (also known as Anti-Bullying Day) takes place annually at the end of February, the timing was great to explore David and Goliath through the lens of bullying. Some scholars have speculated that if the character of Goliath was real, he may have had a genetic disorder that kept is bones from fusing and caused him to both grow very tall and also to be very fragile – thus allowing even a small stone to be potentially deadly.

This reading of the story raises questions similar to those that we need to ask about bullying. Of course the behaviour of bullies is not acceptable, but at the same time, how can we address not only their behaviour but also their motivations, which may arise from their own insecurities, the ways that they have been ostracized themselves, society’s limited expectations for them, etc.

Here is a video about Pink Shirt day and a possible non-violent response to bullying. We also discussed other ways to respond to bullying and how to prevent it happening in the first place if we can.

Lent

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This past Sunday, we began our exploration of Lent through stories in the Bible that relate to rocks. The story we explored was that of Moses getting water from a rock to sustain the Israelites in the desert with that of Jesus going into the wilderness before his death. The idea of water from a rock presented an interesting image of getting nourishment and sustenance from rocks – and also the season of Lent and the exploration of hard places.

One of our activities was walking the labyrinth as one spiritual practice for renewal and connection to God this season of Lent. We also had the kids make finger labyrinths by sticking yarn on the outline of a labyrinth design so that it can be used without looking and so that the finger can be really guided along its path. Many labyrinth designs are available on the internet if you’d like to do this at home!

Also, public labyrinths can be found outdoors around the city! One of my favourites is downtown next to the Eaton Centre and the Church of the Holy Trinity. Sometimes you will also see them painted or drawn on the ground at parks, on the street, or in church parking lots! Keep an eye out!

We were also blessed to have three of our Spirit Space members present a dance to the congregation during Spirit Space time and to share that spiritual practice and expression with us. They did an amazing job!

#FairlawnRocks

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During the season of Lent, we are inviting individuals and families to consider the symbol of rocks as part of their Lenten journey. Rocks can symbolize the hard places in our lives and in our world, firm foundations, things that ground and centre us, and much more. To connect our reflections, we would encourage you to sign up at coffee hour to take the Fairlawn Lent rock into your life and the places you go for a few days or to use your own rock or rocks you encounter in your daily life to guide your reflections. To share our reflections with one another, we will be making a slide show out of pictures taken by Fairlawn folks, so please take pictures of your rock in meaningful times/places and share them with Sheryl by e-mail or on Twitter/Instagram with #fairlawnrocks.

What is worship?

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This week, we explored the last in the series of Faith Questions the kids came up with. This question was about worship – what it is, why we do it, and what people like or find important about it.

We started off by going through the bulletin and identifying the different parts of worship services. The kids were surprised that last Sunday’s service had 11 musical parts to it! We then went through the different parts and talked about how they help people connect to God and why they might be part of the service.

The kids then had the opportunity to make their own worship service by writing their own hymn, making their own worship space through visual arts and symbols (we painted different symbols of Lent on rocks to begin this project), and working on dance and movement as ways to connect to God in worship.

Meanwhile, the tweens are progressing on their faith questions video project! They finalized the list of questions they want to ask and began their interviews on camera. One of their first interviewees was Christopher (pictured above). Thanks to everyone for your support!

Faith Questions: What is life?

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We have continued our process of examining the questions related to faith that the kids have asked. This week, the theme we examined was life, death, and life beyond death. As leaders, we talked a lot about how to affirm the diversity of opinions about this topic and that no one really knows very much about what comes after death (and therefore, many liberal protestant churches have tended to focus much more on life than death!) while also wanting to name that we can and do believe that God is good, death is natural and part of life, and therefore we can trust that death and life after death is good, in some way. Not good in a way that negates the goodness of this life on earth or takes us off the hook to try to achieve justice, but good in an ultimate way that means in some way that we don’t need to be afraid – even though for many of us it is scary.

So, as you might imagine, this was a tricky topic to address! We started by playing a game that started to identify some of these basic questions and affirmations and then moved into three stations:

-Imagining life after death through art projects that helped kids to imagine heaven. By starting with drawing a picture with pencil crayon and then colouring over with crayon, kids were able then to scrape an image through the crayon to create a third picture. This helped to get at the idea that death is something that is hard to see into and that in some ways we are separated from people and things who have died, but through our imagination and metaphors and stories from the Bible, we can glimpse through that veil of separation and see enough to know that there is goodness on the other side.

-We also created family trees (with family members who are dead and others who are alive) and then wrote letters to family members who are dead or alive to remember that through relationships, our lives can continue past death and that we are able to communicate and remain in relationship with those who have died or who we otherwise don’t get to see very often

-Imagining heaven on earth: Often one of the criticisms of focusing too much on life after death is that it can take us off the hook from working for justice in this world and in this life. So, at this station we talked about people and groups who might be lonely or marginalized in some way and how we can help to bring elements of heaven like reconciliation and connection to them in their lives and situations.

All of these activities are things that you can do at home! It can be helpful for kids also to experience attending funerals, look at photos of deceased relatives and friends, and visit cemeteries. In many ways, kids and people in general today don’t necessarily get much exposure to death and that can add to it being a scarier thing than it needs to be. There are also some great books for kids written about death which can be a great resource.

One of my favourites is The Fall of Freddy the Leaf by Leo Buscalgia. Here is the text of the book: http://achievebalance.com/spirit/theleaf.htm

Jesus

This past Sunday, we continued our faith questions series by exploring some of the questions the kids asked related to Jesus. A lot of their questions related to who Jesus is – how he was born, what he did, why he died, what we can understand resurrection to mean. In talking with the kids, I was interested to learn that a lot of them had familiarity with different parts of Jesus life and some of the occasions that we mark his life, but they weren’t always sure what went with what. For example, some were confused what happened on Easter (was Jesus born? did he die? was he resurrected?) or with the fact that we remember the last supper both on Maundy Thursday (before Easter) and also at other points in the year (when we have communion).

This confusion is really common for kids – and it makes sense. It’s not that often that we talk about Jesus life in totality – often we are just focusing on one story or another. Often too, it is adults who are presenting the story about Jesus and then we ask the kids to apply it to today or to their own lives – very rarely are they asked to come up with a story that relates to a situation or to remember what stories are traditionally connected to different holidays.

One activity that might be interesting to do at home is to make a timeline of Jesus’ life – and then whenever you read a Bible story or celebrate a part of the church year, you could put it on the timeline. Another activity could be to create a matching game with different Bible stories in one set of cards and different holidays/themes/messages in another, i.e.:

Christmas – Jesus’ Birth

Epiphany – The wise men visit Jesus

Easter – Jesus’ resurrection

Pentecost – The church is born

We focused on the theme of all of Jesus’ life last Sunday and then participated in stations related to some of the major stories from his life – i.e. creating fishing poles relating to the fishers of men story (Luke 5), feet washing (John 13), and the last supper (all of the gospels, including Luke 22).

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