Thursday, August 27, 2015

Year B - Proper 21, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 18th Sunday after Pentecost (September 27, 2015)


Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22

This is the only reading from Esther in the RCL.  So one year it would be a delight to tell the whole, somewhat unknown, story with dramatic flair.  The story features two courageous people who act heroically and save the day without the benefit of super powers or super tools.  They simply and bravely do what has to be done using what they have at hand.  They are great role models.  It is an opportunity to go short on the sermon in order to go long on the scripture and possibly to involve the children in the presentation of scripture.  It is also an opportunity to focus on a story with and for children on a Sunday far enough into the new church program year that it reaches out to families who may be having trouble maintaining their commitment to get to worship regularly this year with a service they and the children will especially appreciate.

The assigned verses assume that listeners know the whole story.  Since many do not, it is worth telling that story.  Because the story is long and complicated, children’s Bible story books are good readings.  Try one of these.

Queen Esther, by Tomie de Paola, is my favorite version of the story, but is old and therefore harder to get.  In the middle of the book there are several pages of paper puppets to be glued to sticks and a stage to cut out.  A children’s class could be videoed presenting this puppet show while the story is read.  The video could then be projected as the scripture for worship.  The story can be read in about 8 minutes.

“Esther Saves Her People” in Children of God Storybook Bible, by Desmond Tutu, is the shortest version of the story.  It is one page and can be read in 3 minutes.  It presents only the outline of the story without all the colorful details.  But, it does tell the whole story.




“Esther Saves Her People” in The Family Story Bible, by Ralph Milton, adds many but not all of those details.  It can be read in 5 minutes. 



These story books can be further brought to life by older children or youth pantomiming them to help listeners follow the action.  Ask an older artist to create over-sized, ornate masks of the faces of Esther, the King, Haman, and Mordecai.  The children carry them on dowels/broomsticks in front of their faces as they walk through the action of the stories.

Jewish congregations often cheer every time Esther or Mordecai’s names are mentioned and boo or stomp their feet every time Haman’s name is mentioned.  To do this think like silent vaudeville performers.  Have “acolytes” with posters that urge people to “Cheer!” or “Boo!” cue the congregation as the story is read.

COURAGE
Courage is key word in this story.  With no super powers or special weapons, Esther and Mordecai do what they can with what they have and that is enough to save the day.  That makes this a good story with which to encourage worshipers of all ages to look for what they can do about problems they confront rather than what they cannot do.  It is easy for children (and the rest of us) to assume there is nothing they can do about many problems they see around them.  They see themselves as too young, too small, not smart/knowing/wise enough.  Challenge this by listing all the reasons Esther should have just given up and hoped someone else would do something to save the Jews.  Then list what assets she did have and describe how she used them.  Include among her assets her ability to pray and her uncle’s insistence that God may have made her queen so she could do this one big task.

After recalling Esther praying before she went into action, note that she probably did some praying while in action too.  Introduce breath prayers.  In a breath prayer you say one name for God as you breathe in and make a one sentence request as you breathe out.  You pray it repeatedly as you breathe.  It is like texting God.  Esther could have prayed a breath prayer as she walked into the king’s court uninvited and as she ate (or tried to eat) with Haman and the king.  Suggest some like “Strong God, make Ahasuerus welcome me.” or “Loving God, make Ahasuerus love me.”  Or, invite worshipers to suggest prayers.  Finally, note that we can pray breath prayers of our own every day when we need them.


Sing in response to Esther’s story and Psalm 124.

Sing Stand O Stand Firm (hear it HEREmaking up verses about Esther, Mordecai, and people who need courage to face difficult situations today.  Today I might include the people of Syria, children on school buses, and families with too much to do.  A song leader or choir sings the verses with the congregation joining in on the chorus. 

Identify people who are in situations like that of Esther today, e.g. Christians in some Muslim countries and Muslims in some Christian countries, even illegal immigrants in the US.  Sing We Shall Overcome in spirit of psalm and for all who need God’s help. 

Sing Guide My Feet with motions to pray for God to keep you moving.  (Free worshipers from their songbooks by calling on them to follow a song leader or choir who will sing and do the motions as each verse begins.)
March in place to “guide my feet…”
Hold hands for “hold my hands…”
Throw hands up in the air and look up like a child 
   wanting to be picked up for “I’m your child…”
Hand on heart for “Search my heart…”
Etc.

Use this for non-commercial purposes.
Sing God of Grace and God of Glory pointing out the chorus, “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage” and encouraging even non-readers to sing at least that.  Or, give children (all worshipers) copies of the illustrated word sheet.  Point out the gray verses referring to how Esther and Mordecai felt facing Haman’s death order.  Invite worshipers to sing remembering those two and/or problems they and others face today.

Use this in for non-commercial purposes.
There is also an illustrated song sheet with which to sing Great Is Thy Faithfulness.  It parallels Psalm 124.  The illustrations are self explanatory and simply help singers pay attention to what they are singing.




Psalm 124

Read this psalm after reading the story of Esther.  Imagine yourselves among the Jews celebrating God’s saving them from Haman’s destruction.  Also check out the suggestions just above about how to sing hymns that respond to Psalm 124 and Esther’s story.

To help children grasp all the images in the psalm, have worshipers open their pew Bibles.  Briefly point out the format in the first verse, then walk through the images that say how much trouble they were in.
It was like we were being carried away by a raging flood.
It was like an animal was eating us.
We were like a bird caught in a trap – before God broke 
    the trap to free us
Point out that in all these situations God did indeed save the people.  Then read the psalm together from the Bible or using the script below.

? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? 

Psalm 124

Leader:      What if the Lord had not been on our side?
                   Answer, O Israel!

People:       “If the Lord had not been on our side
when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us alive
in their furious anger against us;
then the flood would have carried us away,
the water would have covered us,
the raging torrent would have drowned us.”

Leader:       Let us thank the Lord,
who has not let our enemies 
destroy us.

People:        We have escaped like a bird 
                               from a hunter’s trap;
the trap is broken, and we are free!

All:               Our help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

                                                        Today’s English Version

? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ?

Yes, I restructured the script as it appeared in Year A.  At this point, it just felt better to me this way. 


Numbers 11: 4-6, 10-16, 24-29

This story echoes the Gospel for today.  Neither story grabs the attention of children, but the gospel probably does it better than this one. 

If you do explore this with the children, highlight all the complaining that is going on.  The people are complaining about their food and Moses is complaining about his job.  That is OK with God.  God doesn’t give them all a lecture about complaining.  God responds.  The people remember who they are and what they are doing (even while not eating well) when the gift of prophecy is given the 70 elders.  Moses is instructed to share his leadership work with natural leaders already in place. 

If you do read this long story, keep worshipers' attention with several readers.  Include a Narrator, Moses, the Lord, a runner from the camp and Joshua.  Also include the whole congregation in the reading as it is printed below or have the narrator read their part for simplicity.  Work especially with Moses and the Narrator for dramatic readings that radiate all the grumpy frustrations in the story.

L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L

Numbers 11: 4-6, 10-16, 24-29

Narrator:  The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said,

Congregation:  If only we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at." 

Narrator:  Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the Lord became very angry, and Moses was displeased.  So Moses said to the Lord,

Moses:  Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me?  Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, 'Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child,' to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors?  Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, 'Give us meat to eat!'  I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me.   If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once--if I have found favor in your sight--and do not let me see my misery.

Narrator:  So the Lord said to Moses,

The Lord:  Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you.

Narrator:  So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent.  Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.  Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp.  And a young man ran and told Moses,

Young man (running up to Moses from the congregation):   Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp."

Narrator:  And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said,

Joshua (who has been standing off to the side near Moses):  My lord Moses, stop them!

Moses: Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!"

                                                                        Based on NRSV

J J J J J J J J J J J J J J J J J J J J J


Psalm 19:7-14

DECREES  PRECEPTS  COMMANDMENT  
FEAR  ORDINANCES  LAW  
Psalm 19 appears frequently in the lectionary and was the psalm for Proper 19 - just 3 weeks ago.  One of the best ways to share it with the children in the congregation is to print the six synonyms for LAW on separate posters.  Read each one and pass it to a worshiper who is invited to stand at the front.  Give the more complicated words to older worshipers – maybe “ordinance” to a lawyer – and simpler words to younger worshipers.  Point out that they are synonyms, they are different words for the same thing.  Instruct poster bearers to raise their poster as they hear their word in the psalm.  As you read the verses, pause when you come to each poster word. 


James 5:13-20

James describes practices that heal and restore the community.  His thoughts provide an opportunity to explore specific practices as practiced in your congregation.

If your congregation holds healing services or anoints the sick with oil, explain these rites to the children.  Show them what is done.  Tell them why you do it.  And, clarify any misconceptions about “magic” involved in them.

If your congregation hears prayer requests during worship on Sunday, take time before those requests are collected to explain what you do to the children.  Also invite them to suggest prayer concerns for this day and be sure they are mentioned near the beginning of the church’s prayers that follow.

Compare the order of the prayer of confession and assurance of pardon used in your worship to the process that unfolds when we apologize to and forgive each other for mean things we said or did.  Use a specific example such as a friend you called a mean name (pick one that kids hurl at each other in your area) or tripping a kid you do not really like that much as he or she walks past your desk. 

Give children praying hands stickers with which to identify all the prayers in your printed order of worship.  Together find all the songs, printed prayers, recited prayers, prayers everyone says together and opportunities for individual prayers.  Celebrate the variety and note that all these kinds of prayer can be used every day.  Encourage children to watch for them today and not miss any opportunity to pray.  Also point out that we don’t have to be at church to pray.  There are household prayers, mealtime blessings, private prayers, even sung or whistled prayers that remind us that God is with us always.


Invite children to pray with a marker or pencil.  Instruct them to begin by drawing a loopy scribble that has several big holes in it rather than lots of tiny ones.  Tell them to write or draw people or groups or problems they want to pray for this morning in each hole.  Encourage them to add details as they talk to God about each person or topic.  Collect the prayer sheets in the offering baskets.  Or, invite children to tape them to the edges of the Table or rail at the front of the sanctuary at the end of worship.

If you deal with the questions raised about unanswered prayer that are raised by the reference to Elijah, be straight with the children too.  They need to hear early that we don’t always get what we ask for – even from God.  They also need to hear that adults are mystified when they ask God for good things - like the healing of someone they love - and they don’t get them.  Knowing this makes children less likely to conclude that they are bad people or that God doesn’t love them when they pray for something and don’t get what they desperately want and need.  They know that it happens to everyone and that no one understands it or likes it.  That helps – a little.


Mark 9:38-50

There are several themes in this complex passage.  Parts of some of them can be explored with children in ways that enriches them for the adults as well.

“In Jesus’ Name”
Explore what we mean when we end a prayer or do some service “in Jesus’ name.” 

When we say it at the end of a prayer, we are saying “I am praying this because I am a follower of Jesus and I trust Jesus who I think has great love and power.” 

When we do something to take care of another person we say we are doing it in Jesus' name because we think Jesus would want this to be done and we are doing it for him.  Make an informal litany by naming specific service work people in church do (being sure to include some children do) and asking children to respond “in Jesus’ name.”

The disciples point out people who are healing in Jesus’ name, but are not members of their group.  So, identify others working for the public good in your community, especially other churches.  Celebrate what all are doing.  Be sure the children know these other groups are not enemies, but share the building of the Kingdom.

Show pictures of other churches in your town.  Note ministries for which they are known.  This could be a discussion and/or a prayer with the group praying for each church as its picture is displayed.

“There’s A Spirit in the Air” speaks in simple everyday words about joining God in ”living working in our world.”  Before singing it challenge worshipers to listen for examples of ways God is at work in the world. 

Verse 50 about the salt is an object lesson and makes more immediate sense to adults than to children.  So focus on explaining the connection.  Give children a tiny taste of salt.  Talk about the difference salt makes on mashed potatoes and corn.  Insist that Jesus says we should makes as big a difference in the world as salt makes in food.  Identify ways we can make a difference – being kind to other people, helping out wherever we can, sharing what we have with people who need our help, etc.

Sing You Are Salt for the Earth O People, Bring forth the Kingdom of God.  To encourage children to sing have the congregation sing the chorus in response to a soloist or choir singing the verses.  Go to hymnary.org for sheet music.

The hard teaching about the millstone is for the children too.  They may not catch the message as the verse is read and they don’t need an explanation of a millstone and what would happen if a millstone were tied around a person’s neck as the person was tossed into the water.  But, they can hear a preacher insist that they are responsible for the younger ones around them and the ones who follow their lead.  If they kind of egg those kids on or let them think that something that they know is not OK is OK, then it is their fault when those other kids get in trouble.  They are responsible.  That responsibility starts now not when they grow up.

If a child is being baptized on this Sunday, put a positive spin on this teaching.  Review with the children any questions posed to the congregation.  Point out to the children that they can answer those questions and with them think about how they can live out their answer to the questions, i.e. care for the child, tell the child about Jesus, and help the child feel at home around the church. 


The verses about cutting off offending parts of one’s body are verses I’d skip over with children.  Children think so literally that they cannot get past the mental picture of deformed bodies that they are told are appreciated by God.  This is an idea to save for later.