The king said to Daniel, ‘May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!’

Monday, November 7, 2016

New Children's Christmas Play, "On this Dirt"

On This Dirt

A New-Age Christmas Program

By Rev. Daniel Pugh Jr

Setting: The land of Bethlehem.

Luke: tour guide
Matthew: tour guide
Isaiah: Wise owner of the land

14 kings
7 sons
King 1
King 2
King 3

Luke: Travelers, tourists and parents who are here to take video of their adorable children that you will never watch again, everyone gather around. Welcome to Bethlehem. My name Luke and I am an official tour guide to this dirt. 

Matthew: I thought we agreed to not call ourselves 'official'.

Luke: No, I agreed that you are not official. I tell an orderly account of the facts, which makes me official. You, Matthew, tell the story all wrong. 

Matthew:  There are lots of people who prefer my version of this dirt better. Ever heard of Godspell? If you get to be the official tour guide of this dirt, then I'll ask that you kindly refer to me as Saint Matthew, the expert. 

Luke: Yeah, like anybody is ever going to call you a saint for what you stole from Mark. Saint Matthew, patron saint of plagiarism.

Matthew: How about we let these people decide. 

Luke: Decide what? 

Matthew: Decide whose story is better. My story about Kings, family, royalty, and attempted murder. 

Luke: Or my story, about underdogs, Angels, shepherds and a star so bright

Matthew: It all started with-

Luke: It all started with-

Matthew and Luke: HEY!

Isaiah: What is going on here? What are you two squabbling about on MY dirt?

Matthew: I’m sorry, Mr. Isaiah, we didn’t mean to disturb you, we are grateful that you let us bring tours to your dirt. We were just fighting because we were both giving a tour at the same time.

Isaiah: Well, it’s fine, kids, I’m not in it for the profit. Get it? Isaiah, not in it for the profit?

Luke and Matthew stare at each other.

Isaiah: You’re too young. So, both of you are trying to tell the same story, but differently, is that what I understand? Well, how’s this. I happen to know a lot about the story of this dirt. It is, after all, my family’s dirt and I was writing about this dirt for 300 years before you two were born. And I predicted what would happen. So you, Matthew, you have a good Jewish name, I’ll let you go first.

Matthew: Well, the story of this dirt begins with Abraham. Abraham begat Issac, and Isaac begat Jacob, and Jacob begat Judah and his brothers. Judah begat Perez.

Luke: How long is this going to take?

Matthew: The story takes 28 generations. (14 kids line up wearing hats, then switch to crowns.)14 generations from Abraham to David, and 14 from David to Jesus.

Luke: Boring!

Matthew: These are leaders and Kings, and it all happened here.. Abraham lived on this dirt and Issac and David and Joseph and Mary.  You see, Jesus was born here, too, and he descended from Kings….

Sing “What Child is This” (2 verses)

Luke: Thanks for the history lesson, Professor. Now here’s a story about David that you left out. David started out with humble beginnings. Before he was a king he was a runt.

Matthew: A runt?

Luke: A runt, the youngest of 8 sons of Jesse. One day the prophet Samuel came by Jesse’s house to find the next King.

Isaiah: I know that prophet Samuel, great guy. We play racketball together on Thursdays. He is a good honest man who listens to God’s voice.  

Luke: So Samuel comes to visit Jesse because God told him to. And Jesse lines up his oldest 7 sons (7 kids line up in order of height, Jesse stands proudly by him. Samuel checks them out) Samuel examined each one and determined that God was not calling any of them. Samuel asks Jesse- Do you have any more sons?

Samuel: Jesse, do you have any more sons.

Luke: And Jesse says, not really. I have my son David, but he is outside with the sheep.

Jesse: Not really, I have my son David, but he is outside with the sheep.
(David stands petting someone dressed as a sheep)

Luke: He is the smallest of my sons and he smells.

Jesse: He is the smallest of my sons and he smells.

Matthew: Objection, King David did not smell.
Isaiah: If the boy slept with the sheep, he probably smelled. I’ll allow it.
Luke: And Samuel called the boy over (David leaves the sheep and goes over to Samuel) and looked him up and down. Then he took out his oil and anointed the boy. And he said, the Lord expects great things from you.
Samuel: The Lord expects great things from you!
Luke: And that story took place on this same dirt. You see, Mary and Joseph had to come back to this place because there was a census.
Matthew: A census? What is that?
Luke: A census is when all the people are counted from where they are from. So everyone had to go back to their home town, including Joseph and Mary. And their son, Jesus, was a decendent of David, the shepherd, so it was actually perfect that he was born on the same dirt. It’s like the family tree was underground and under this dirt it lie dormant. But some day, the prophesy said that a new branch shall come out of the roots of Jesse.
Matthew: You’re making that up. Who said that?
Isaiah: I SAID THAT!  A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
   and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
   the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
   the spirit of counsel and might,
   the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 
The young girl will give birth and he will be called, Emmanuel, God with us.

Sing: “O COME, O COME, Emmanuel.” (2 verses)

Matthew: You said all that? You mean, you predicted that a messiah would come to save us?

Isaiah: You didn’t think yours is the only story of this dirt, did you?

Luke: I guess I hadn’t thought about it.

Isaiah: We Jews have been telling stories of this dirt for over a thousand years. God has been faithful to our people Israel even though we didn’t always listen to him or his messengers.

Luke: Like angels?

Isaiah: Yes, like his angels.

Matthew: So it’s my turn. When Mary and Joseph got to this dirt, an Angel came to visit Joseph (An angel and Joseph come on stage, joseph sits in the chair, the angel behind him.

Luke:  What? The angel came to Mary, not Joseph.

Matthew: You’re crazy.

Isaiah: Children, children, if it’s Gabriel we’re talking about, he probably visited both. He leaves no stone unturned.

Luke: It was Gabriel! How did you know?

Isaiah: He is the one who was prophesied to herald in the Messiah, and the one who will declare that the end of the world. Let me ask you this, did he tell you to fear not?

Luke: Yes, like every time.

Isaiah: That’s because Daniel prophesied that he would show up at the end of the world.

Matthew: Let me guess, Daniel is another prophet like you and Samuel?

Isaiah: Yes. Great guy, Daniel. We play in a band together on Fridays. He can really blow that horn.

Matthew: So back to my story. Joseph was confused because he and Mary weren’t married and he didn’t know if he was ready to be a dad. But the Angel said to Joseph- You will be a great dad.

Angel: You will be a great dad.

Matthew: And he explained that his son will be the King of Kings, just like his ancestor, KING David. And when Jesus was born, the angels sang, “Glory to the Newborn King”


Luke: I am beginning to see that our stories are very similar, but told a different way. In my version of the story the angel doesn’t go to Joseph, because the story is really about Mary. (Joseph gets out of the chair and Mary sits down) And the angel Gabriel comes to tell her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

Angel: Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God

Luke: You shall bear a child, and his name shall be Jesus,

Angel: You shall bear a child, and his name shall be Jeuss.

Luke: And he will be called the son of the Most High.

Angel: And he will be called the son of the Most High.

Luke: And Mary wondered, How can this be?

Mary: How can this be?

Luke: And the Angel said- The spirit of the Lord is upon you

Angel: The spirit of the Lord is upon you

Isaiah: That sounds familiar.

Luke: Have you heard that before?

Isaiah: I should think so. I wrote it.

Luke: I had no idea!

Isaiah: It’s OK, it’s flattering.

Luke:  And just like the angel foretold, Mary did have a baby boy and named him Jesus. And the angels began singing.

Sing “Angels we have heard on High” (2 verses)

Luke: So, after the prophesy, Mary and Joseph headed to Bethlehem, they need a place to sleep.
(Mary and Joseph not on the door and the innkeeper answers)
Joseph asks- Is there any room in the Inn?

Joseph: Is there any room in the inn?
(Innkeeper shakes head, points to a barn.)

Luke: But there was no room. So they settle into a barn, where the animials sleep, because the animals were out in the fields, with the shepherds. And while they were there, it came time for Mary to give birth. And on that night, a star appeared over the stable where the baby was born. And guess who saw it- the shepherds!

Matthew: SHEPHERDS! You’re going to let smelly old shepherds into the story of the birth of a king! That night a star appeared so bright that KINGS saw it from a long way off and it took two years for them to get there.

Luke: Shepherds saw the star because David was a shepherd.

Matthew: David was a king!

Isaiah: Children, children. Why do you insist on fighting? Can’t both be there. In a 100 years, you watch, no one will care that Luke talks about shepherds and Matthew talks about Kings. I bet in a 100 years, people will forget which is which and just have a story of all of them together.

Matthew: All of them together? Kings and shepherds? No way!

Luke: That will never happen, Isaiah. People won’t want to just make up another story of Christmas, like it’s a pageant. They will always remember who wrote what.

Isaiah: This is coming from two children who have been using my words in their stories without even knowing it! Children, it is ok if people put your stories together sometimes. They are both good stories. Now, let me hear about the shepherds from you, Luke, and then you, Matthew, can tell me about Kings.

Luke: So the Shepherds are watching their flock by night (Shepherds, sheep, and angel take the stage opposite Mary and Joseph) when the angel Gabriel comes to them. And when they see him, and the glory of the Lord shines around them, and they are terrified.

Shepherds: We are Terrified!

Luke: But the angel Gabriel says- Fear not!

Angel: FEAR NOT!

Luke: For I bring you good tidings of great joy

Angel: For I bring you good tidings of great joy

Luke: For unto you, in the city of David, a savior is born, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you, you will find the baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.

Angel: For unto you- what he said!

Luke:  So the shepherds took their sheep and went to see the baby, and sure enough, they found him in a manger, which reminds us that Jesus will grow up to feed people by the thousands, and his last supper will show us the way of communion, which reminds us that our sins are forgiven. And after the shepherds meet the baby they go out telling everyone- that Jesus Christ is born.

Sing “Go tell it on the mountain” (2 verses)

Isaiah: That is a good story about this dirt, from David on down to Mary, and Gabriel, and the Shepherds. Thank you, Luke, for telling it. You are an excellent tour guide. Now Matthew, you have been waiting patiently. Tell me about the kings.

Matthew: I’d be happy to. So there was an evil king named Herod, and he wanted to hurt Jesus. So the three kings from the Orient came and followed the star to Bethlehem, (the kings enter on the side opposite the shepherds and Mary and Joseph) and they brought him gifts they had reserved for the king. They said these are gifts for a king

King 1: These are gifts for a king

Matthew: We didn’t give them to Herod

King 2: We didn’t give to Herod.

Matthew: You are the true king, the one who was prophesied.

King 3: You are the true king, the one who was prophesied.

Matthew: We brought you gold

King 1: We brought you gold

Matthew: Frankincense

King 2: Frankincense

Matthew: And Myrrh

King 3: And Myrrh.

Matthew: Gold was a traditional gift for a king. Frankincense was for a king to make his house smell nice, and myrrh was a gift that could be used as medicine. All three gifts were the best gifts that could have been given for that first Christmas. Gifts from kings to the King of Kings

Sing “WE THREE KINGS” (2 verses)
Isaiah: Matthew, thank you for your story of this dirt- of the family line from Abraham to King David to Jesus. You told the story of how the Kings from far away came to this place, and how they went past the bad king Herod in order to find their one, true king. So this Jesus, does he ever become king?

Matthew: Yes, but in a new way, he is still the king of us all.

Isaiah: And does he ever become a shepherd?

Luke: Yes, but in a new way, he is the Good Shepherd of us all.  

Isaiah: Well, let us celebrate the stories of this dirt, and the God of us all. I am excited to see what God will do next. You all who are here today, on this tour, bear witness to God’s great and abundant mercy. Let us all search in our own lives, for the one whom I have prophesied will come,

For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the kingdom will be on his shoulders. And he will be called wonderful counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. And all God’s people say, AMEN!

Sing “JOY TO THE WORLD” (2 verses)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Teachers, Learning styles, and the Lord's Prayer

This is the unabridged version. You can listen to the audio version here. The gospel and other texts are here.


Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and from our lord and savior Jesus Christ.

There is so much to be said about today's gospel regarding the Lord's prayer. It is, after all, 
the greatest teaching of all time taught by the greatest Teacher of all time.
And we cannot take that lightly because there are so many great teachers in our world. 

I've been thinking a lot about teachers this week. Great teachers that I have had, great teachers my children have had. I would venture to guess that many of us have chosen careers based on the advice of some good teachers who inspired is in a particular way. 

I think about my children’s teachers to come, how in another month our sweet Thomas will enter kindergarten for the first time. Jacob is going into 3rd grade and will continue to grow and be molded by great teachers whose impact will last much longer than a school year. Great teachers sow seeds that take a lifetime to develop. Which is why teachers never stop teaching. Even now in the middle of summer teachers minds are preparing new curriculum, want to make the learning experience as accessible and fun as possible. 
And I think about Avery and I've already started praying for the teacher who has given her time to teach two-year-olds who have endless questions. 

In my prayer time regarding teachers, I think about their impossible task to And I think about all teachers who balance trying to support individual growth and achievement with managing a class with twenty or thirty students at a time.

I don’t view going back to school as something to dread. No complaints here. School is good for my kids and they love it.
Teachers work their tails off for us and for our children. 
Teachers come in all kinds, petagogys and styles.

And it seems to me that when I think of the teachers I have had, they tend to teach in two fundamental ways. 
There are some teachers who teach facts and systems. These teachers take the established methods of teaching and develop a syllabus to follow the best practices from over the years. These teachers tend to teach certain subjects that go easily with a straight-forward approach. Subjects so exact that the answers can be predicted and tested, and even published in the back of the book. They value order and rules of the trade and they have high expectations that others can work within the proven systems.

There there is another gaggle of teachers (what do you call a group of teachers? A flock? A hoard? I like gaggle!) who teach with a style full of creativity and critical thinking. Here, answers aren't given. What is expected is for the student to respond from their own self. These teachers a less inclined to apply established practices than they are to ask open-ended questions.   

So, what does this have to do with the gospel text about the Lord's prayer? I'm glad that you asked! 

The Lord's prayer is taught to us, as I said, by the greatest teacher of all time. In fact, Jesus is called Teacher more than he is called anything else in the gospels. Even after he has died and risen he appears first to Mary Magdeline who doesn't know who he is. 

But Jesus calls on her, his student, and says, "Mary" and she responds, "Rabboni" which means "Teacher" 
Like all the best teachers, Jesus inspired others to learn from him and follow him. 

So the Lord's prayer is taught to us in both Matthew and Luke, and both gospels teach it a bit differently.      

In for the sake of transparency, those who study with me already know that I have an affinity for Luke's teaching style. Luke has Jesus teaching around food, more informal learning setting, but nonetheless powerful. Luke tells more parables than the other gospels combined. Parables, that, by the way, aren’t driving at one particular point, but are spoken in order to open your mind, not to close it.

Matthew works within the established rules of Judaism and their practices, Jesus in Matthew talks a lot about Kosher laws and applying them to people- and there is a lot of talk about separating, which is a kosher law. Kosher is about keeping things separate. Milk and meat use separate containers. So Matthew talks about separating the wheat from the chaff and the sheep from the goats. It’s very rule based. For people who like rules and order, Matthew hits the nail on the head. Those rules are there for a reason. They have been refined over centuries and following the established best practices is the best way to a relationship with God.
If that sounds like you, listen to what Jesus has to say about the Lord’s prayer in Matthew. He introduces it this way in Matthew 6- "Don’t heap up empty phrases like the Gentiles, for they think they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your father knows what you need before you ask it.
When you pray, say, “Our father, who art in heaven.”
Matthew seems to tell us to stick to the script. Don't make up your own long prayers. Stick to the rules and facts.  
Matthew seems to suggest that the disciples already know how to pray. It suggests that prayer is already part of their daily life- that as good Jews, they understand that prayer is simply a best practice for their lives. He doesn’t have to offer commentary to the rule-followers because they know how to follow the rules. Giving them directions about praying would be preaching to the choir. He even has to tell them that when they pray to do so in quiet, not on the streets to show others how prayerful you are. The disciples in Matthew are like those of you who read Christ in our Home as Pastor Trexler referenced last week with the Children’s message. If that works for you, then you probably don’t need a reminder to pray in this sermon. Keep the path that you are on. Plan your work and work your plan.

Yet I am sure that there are others who often don’t find comfort in a conversation or sermon about prayer. Some of you don’t sit down to balance your checkbook, let alone open the devotional book and sit down. 
In Luke, the disciples start the conversation after watching their teacher pray. So they ask, "Lord, teach us to pray" And Jesus does. Then Jesus goes into a parable about a man who needs help and doesn't get it until he is persistent. Luke loves to tell parables because their meaning is more of the open-ended type of teaching style. Jesus tells more parables in Luke than the other gospels combined. By attaching a parable to the teaching of the Lord's prayer, followed by Ask, seek, knock, Jesus suggests that we pray with our hearts, not merely from a script. 

So, some people look at Jesus and see a teacher of rules and facts and others see tolerance and ideals.

And this is a good reminder to us that all people learn differently, and therefore we pray differently. And the Lord's prayer is perfectly suited for those who like the structure of an organized prayer- the greatest teaching of all time- and it also opens the mind to a bevy of deeper conversation and meditation for God's work through us, his children. 

No matter which gospel you read, Jesus is a masterful teacher who seeks to inspire in his students a passion that is unparalleled. 

Soren Kierkegaard wrote a lot about God and was a student of theology. He agonized over whether or not God existed at all until he came to this conclusion.
Part of the confusion, he says, is that there are two kinds of teachers, Socrates and Jesus.
Kierkegaard says Socrates wanted his students to focus on truths in the world. Which is to say, you were to focus on the teachings not the teacher.   And when you study with Socrates you are meant to learn the subject being taught- whether it’s philosophy or math or 18th-century British lit- the goal of the teaching is the subject.
But then there are teachers like Jesus where the subject cannot be learned apart from the teacher. When you study Jesus, the ultimate goal is not to know some new truth, such a new commandment to love one another or "Blessed are the poor" or 'The Good Samaritan" or The Prodigal Son', or 'Forgive them father for they know not what they do', the goal is to know Christ.
To study Jesus is to be known by Jesus.
Jesus is the kind of teacher whose words tell the story of who he is and to follow him we do not just recite his words, we live as he lives. 

There have been countless others who have tried to paint Jesus as a great thinker like Socrates, whose sayings can be used as inspiration alongside Gandi or Mya Angelou. 

There are those like Thomas Jefferson, who is known for his Jeffersonian Bible, which was little more than the collection of things Jesus taught. 

But to study Jesus without following him is to miss Kierkegaard's point. Because Jesus didn't just teach us to help- he taught us to pray. 

So Matthew is right that we are not to pray empty words- we are supposed to mean them. Jesus teaches us how to pray using these holy and glorious words that our lips may guide our hearts to be like the teacher, not just learn his subject.

And let's admit it- at times, prayer is difficult.
Even for pastors, we get asked to pray for everything and sometimes the words just don’t come.
About a month ago I was having lunch with Bishop Smith and when I offered to pray before the meal he said, “O thank goodness, I love to listen to a prayer someone else gives once in a while”

Prayer takes time and concentration which are two things that our society isn’t too fond of. We run around pushing our bodies and minds and souls to their limit, and for all of that busyness, we rarely concentrate on anything.

One of the things I like about yoga is that I don’t have to sit still, but I can still meditate, that's my 21st adaptation to prayerful meditation. 

I love the Lord's prayer so much that I teach it more than any other subject. 
For the past four years, I have taught it to my 7th-grade confirmation classes. when I teach confirmation. Each of my students hears me say that more than learning the words of the Lord’s prayer, the world needs them to live the words of the Lord’s prayer. The world needs them to submit to God’s kingdom, pray that it come to earth, the world needs them to forgive as they are forgiven, and to actively avoid temptation. The world needs them to pray the prayer that Jesus taught them to pray.
My brother is an education who always reminds me that the best learning happens at home. Which is why every when we tuck the kids into bed we pray the Lord’s prayer, because greatest prayer ever written. We said it to Jacob every night until his little lips adopted the phrasing and cadence. Thomas learned it right after we moved to Winston-Salem, and as I laid with him on his bed in our old house I remember him starting the prayer, “other father, who art in heaven.” I have never corrected him because it's just too perfect. He is praying to his "other father" 
Now Avery is learning it. She can say nearly the whole thing. She doesn’t know her whole name, but she knows who she is in the Lord’s prayer.
So for you, sisters and brothers. Some of you know how to pray and what works for you and I say keep up the good work. Others of you don’t make time to sit down and pray because you never sit down for anything. If that’s you, then let me say I understand.

Kierkegaard is right- Jesus cannot be separated from his teachings, so to pray as he teaches is to pray like he prays, and in it we are connected to Jesus the great teacher because by praying like him, we become like him.
And because of him we no long address the prayer to some diety in the sky. When we pray like Jesus we say, “Our Father.” Abba. Our daddy.
To learn to speak like Jesus it to learn the ease at which we call his dad our dad. Or as Thomas says, “other Father”
And I know that the greatest modeling I can do is to teach my son about his "other father" in heaven.
And watching your children say and live those words, is about all a dad can ask for. Amen. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

"Our Dancing Has Turned to Mourning"

All I can think about is this quote from Lamentations. 

Hundreds of men were dancing on Saturday, June 11th, 2016, when terror struck. One witness said at first he thought the sound of gunshots was part of the dance track. But then there were just too many shots. Now Joy is gone from their hearts. Now their dancing has turned into mourning. 

I don't have a bold new position on this issue. Others have already parsed out issues related to identity, tribalism, weapons, and religion. 

Others have rebuffed the prayers of religious communities as shallow talk. And maybe it is. 

So I look for another way to say that I am affected by you, that something connects us.  

Today, on behalf of my brothers and sisters whose dancing has turned to mourning, I took time to read Lamentations: 

Streams of tears flow from my eyes

    because my people are destroyed.

My eyes will flow unceasingly,

    without relief,
until the Lord looks down
    from heaven and sees.
What I see brings grief to my soul

Sadness and rage stir within these words, waiting for the Lord to look down to see us crying. Starting from a place of anger and outrage toward God, other people, and other people's problems seems as normal as anything can following a tragedy. Anger is a stage of grief. What I see brings grief to my soul. 

Three days after the attack at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando last Saturday, I do not feel anger, just sadness. As details surfaced, I began to see a hurting person who hurt people. The men inside were part of a group. The person who opened fire on people dancing was part of another. In my belief system, all were created by God. 

Jew or Christian, Muslim or Mormon: our God is a God of creation. We all can agree on that

And being created by God is a big deal. It means that we have a sameness and a common ancestry.

Created in the image of God means that each other is sacred. 

We often defend our tribe and our scripture by giving them human qualities. We say our scripture is "divinely inspired," "From the mouth of God" and "God-breathed". Shouldn't we use those words to discuss each other, rather than words on a page? Isn't DNA God-breathed? And isn't our existence divinely inspired? Shouldn't our lives be focused on our commonality in God? 

Whether or not I have opinions on the issues, it is perhaps more true that I'm lamenting the loss of sacred lives.

                                  Arise, cry out in the night,

    as the watches of the night begin;

pour out your heart like water
    in the presence of the Lord.
Lift up your hands to him

    for the lives of your children   

Somebody first wrote these words in a time of great sadness. Their sanctuary was taken from them. Their people were destroyed. Their feelings of safety were forever gone. 

These words continue to help me express sadness and outrage. Not toward God, or one person or a group of people, but for the human condition. We pour out our hearts like water. We cry out in the night. We lift up our hands to God for the lives of our children. 

Children of the same God.