Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lent 5 A (April 6): The Power of God/God's Big Surprises

Bible Readings: Ezekiel 37:1-14, Psalm 130, Romans 8:6-11, John 11:1-45
About the Images:
Upper Left: Just an image of surprise - it is mine so please feel free to use it for worship and related activities.
Upper Right: This is a Microsoft free clipart image. I liked the way it portrays God's new life as something that we discover and find in unexpected places and that all of that is part of a reality bigger than the one we see in front of us.

Lower Left: Another excellent free image from the Heartlight site - see my link in the column at the left.

Listening Song: Panis Angelicus
By Russel Watson on his album, The Voice (pictured at left). Great song to use for the introduction or during a communion service.

Listening Song: You Raise Me Up
By Selah on their album, Hiding Place, (pictured at right) and on WOW 2005.. This goes well with pretty much all the readings.

 Kids: Emotion Faces
As I have mentioned in earlier blogs I have a set of large cards with dinner plate sized round faces drawn upon them. Each face depicts a different emotion; happy, sad, puzzled, angry, surpised etc etc. The gospel story this week really lends itself to these emotion cards. Tell the story (or get a good story teller to tell the story) and either have kids pick the face which goes with a particular part of the story or hold up the appropriate card and get the kids (and the congregation) to mimic the face or act out the emotion.

Kids: Bubbles
Give everyone (I am giving one to all the adults as well - why should they be left out of the fun) a small bottle of bubble solution and ask them to blow bubbles without opening their mouths. Have some fun with this before encouraging everybody to blow bubbles. Link: Just as we breathe life into the bubbles so God breathed life into the dry bones, and so God's Spirit breathes life in to us.

Film Clip: The Shawshank Redemption
(pictured at left) After Brooks kills himself after being released from prison and Andy has just completed two weeks in solitary confinement for playing Mozart over the prison speaker system, Red and Andy have a fascinating conversation about hope. Show the conversation.

Discussion: On The Shawshank Redemption film clip

1. What is Red's attitude to hope?
2. What is Andy's opinion of hope?
3. What value is hope for us? 

Film Clip: The Hurricane
(pictured at right) Show the scene where Rubin quotes Genesis 49 and tells Lesera (another version of the name Lazarus) that it is Lesera's love that has raised/saved him and given him new life.

Film Clip: Castaway
(pictured at right) Show the clip which is about 1hour 40 minutes in from the credits where Wilson, the volley ball which Chuck becomes so attached to in his loneliness that he treats it as real person, falls loose. Chuck repeats "I'm sorry, Wilson" over and over again.

Discussion: On Castaway Film Clip
What sort of situations cause us to grieve and make us sad?
How can we survive grief?

Artwork: The Raising of Lazarus, 1990

By Pro Hart. Ask people to look at the different expressions on the people surrounding Lazarus. Relate this to the responses some people may have had to Ezekiel's life giving vision. Then ask people to think about how they respond to the Good News of the gospel and mention that, depending on our circumstances at different times, we are not always overjoyed. Ask them to look at the painting to see if they can see their present response somewhere in it.

Bible Reading: John 11:1-45
This is a very long reading for any church service despite being a great story. Try it as a Good News Bible reading via the relevant film clip from the Vision Bible film of The Gospel of John (pictured at left) or read it as a beautiful and moving story from Walter Wangerin Junior's book The Book of God, Zondervan, 1996, ISBN 0310200059, page 756 ff.

Story: Comfort
Found as story No 31 in Your Point Being? by Graham H. Twelftree, Monarch, 2003, ISBN 1854245929 . Fits well with the gospel reading.

Meditation: Lazarus
Found in He Was in the World by John L. Bell, Wild Goose Publications, 1995, ISBN 094798870X, page 77.

Meditation: Prayers That Jesus Hears
Found in Present on Earth by Wild Goose Worship Group, Wild Goose, 2002, ISBN 0901557642, page 93.

Prayer for Others/Response Activity
This one needs a bit of work on your part before the service. Boil the meat off one or two chooks (translate "chicken" for the non Australians) and then dry the bones in an oven (at least you get a good feed for your efforts :-) ) Give everyone a chicken bone before or during the Ezekiel reading. During the prayer for others or response activity project or give out the words of the Bishop Oscar Romaro quote (below). Encourage people in a time of silence to talk to God about a situation they consider to be hopeless or beyond them to solve. Ask them to give the situation to God to deal with by placing their dried bone at the foot of the cross.

Quote: Bishop Oscar Romero
"We are living in a black night but Christianity discerns that beyond the night the dawn already glows. The hope that does not fail is carried in the heart. Christ goes with us."

Response Activity: Three Choices
Let people choose between:
1. Watch a powerpoint meditation. I put images and music to Bruce Prewer's From Death to Life found at
2. Group Discussion:
a) How does Jesus' response to Lazarus' death and Mary's weeping help you to trust him more?
b) What have you found helpful when you are called upon to help a friend who is undergoing a hard time?
3. Make cards for people who are sad.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lent 4 A (March 29): You Are Special/Lookiing on the Inside/

Bible Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1-13, Psalm 23, Romans 8:6-11, John 11:1-45

About the image:
Upper Left: From Wikipedia Commons and therefore free (indexed under "love") .
Upper Right: This is microsoft free clip art with my text.

Lower Left: This is microsoft free clip art with my text.

Listening Song: Looking on the Outside
By the Allies on their album, Shoulder to Shoulder (pictured at right). This song goes very well with the 1 Samuel reading and is based on the verse about God looking at our hearts more than anything else.

 Listening Song: Into You
By Jennifer Knapp on her album Lay It Down (pictured at left) or on WOW 2001. This also goes very well with the Samuel reading.

Kid's (Adult) Story: You Are Special
By Max Lucado, Christian Art Publishers, 2000, ISBN 1868525791 (pictured at right). This goes well with the Samuel reading. There is also a DVD of this story available.

Activity Related to Above Story

I included all the adults in this activity as well and they loved it. Before the service, make business cards with the words "You are special" printed on one side. Fold each one in half so that the words are on the inside and fix the cards shut with small stickers of stars and dots. Before I read the above story I gave out the cards and I asked everyone to write on the blank outside a couple of words to represent how they thought the world judges/sees them and the way they judge/see themselves. I took pains to explain that nobody else would see these words. After the story, I read the meditation below.

Meditation related to Above story by Rosemary Broadstock c.2002
God is blind…..

To outward appearance
To what seems to be
To labels
To judgement by prejudices
God looks on the heart.
There, God has eyes wide open.

Are our eyes wide shut?
When I look at God’s creation every day,
The stars, the hills, a blue sky, fresh rain
Do I se
When I look at another
Do I take the time
to see?
to listen?
to appreciate?

to marvel?
When I look at the people of other countries
When I look at an immigrant, a refugee
Do I see God’s child?

When I look at the cross
Do I see the courage, the power
In the face o
f God
When I look at the cross
Do I see
the message
"For You
God sees beyond all fault, all mistakes, all past, all facades.
He sees the child He made.
And God says
“For you are beautiful, Son of Adam
For you are beautiful, daughter of Eve
May we be blind as God is blind
May we be sighted as God is sighted.
And as we learn what really matters, may all our dots fall off.

Take off the stars or dots keeping your card shut and see what God has to say to you.'
Sermon Illustration: A Box of Potential
Found in Case Studies Talk Sheets and Discussion Starters by Jim Burns and Mark Simone, Gospel Light, 1997, ISBN 0830718842, page 59 (pictured at left). This goes well with the Samuel reading as well.

Drama: How to Install Love
A terrific drama but unfortunately now that we are up to Windows 8 and Mac whatever it is becoming a little dated. It is a great idea and worth modernising if you  have the time. It can be  found at It comes complete with a link to a powerpoint that is necessary for the drama. 

Quote: Paul Tillich
We are free to look at all things unimpeded. But when we are tired of seeing the world in all its disorder, its facades, its hate and separation, its demonic destruction, its adoration of the false, then let us close our eyes. Then we will see someone who looks at us with eyes of infinite human depth and power. And those eyes say to us "come and see".

Offering: Inside Gifts for the Church

During the offering time ask people to think about the person on their right and the person on their left and to think about what inner quality each person has which is a gift to the church. At the conclusion of the offering allow time for people to tell their neighbour what they have been thinking about.

Response Activity: Psalm 23

I first saw a version of this in the MediaCom Whole People of God ( theme conversation for this week in 1999 and have used it in varying ways with psalms ever since. The easiest way to do this activity with a whole congregation is to give everyone (or a groups of people) a printed copy of the psalm with blank spaces where significant words should be. In this case for instance leave out the word "shepherd" and in small brackets or with a verbal explanation ask people to fill in the space with an image they think of as appropriate as a protector and carer. A small child used "father". a mad keen sailing teenager used "captain' and a bushwalker used "guide". Continue through the psalm in the same manner. You will discover that not only do people proudly write amazingly personal psalms , they also write thematic psalms connected to the things they are interested in or hold in high regard. It makes the psalm very applicable and understandable.