Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Year B - Proper 27, 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, 24th Sunday after Pentecost (November 8, 2015)

The heroes and heroines of today’s stories put love into action.  They do not just feel love, they do love.  Illustrate and explore the fact that loving involves using our bodies by helping the children form the letters for the word LOVE with their bodies.  Shape each letter discussing it, then spell out the word LOVE without pause before sending children back to their seats.

L          each person sits up straight on the floor with 
             legs out straight and arms above the head
Look where we are sitting – on the floor.  Love means being willing to get down wherever needed with people.  Ruth sat with Naomi in Moab. 
O         form big Os with arms in front of you like a big 
Loving begins with caring about/ hugging people
V         in pairs put feet toe to toe and lean back to form 
            the letter V
Point out that people have to trust each other to love each other, Ruth trusted Naomi’s plan, the widow in Zarephath trusted Elijah’s promise…
E          Each person sits on floor with legs straight out, 
             one arm bent at the elbow then straight out at 
             the waist and the other arm straight out at 
             shoulder height.
This is harder to get into position.  Loving is hard work.  We have to be willing to glean in the hot sun, share our last meal, maybe even drop all we have in the offering plate.

Before singing Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated, direct worshipers to the first and fifth verses (“Take my life…” and “Take my will…”).  Suggest that they could be sung by Ruth, Naomi, Boaz, and the two widows in today’s stories – and by us if we will.  Urge worshipers to pay special attention to those verses as they sing today. 

Something to ponder:  These stories share a theme of giving 100% rather than just a little here and a little there.  Ruth committed herself 100% to Naomi and Boaz.  The widow gave all she had.  Elisha’s widow shared her last meal.  Adults and older youth struggle with how much of themselves and their resources to commit to different things.  There is a tension between the call to live a well-balanced life (a little of a lot of things) and a life 100% committed to one central thing.  Children however are at a different point.  They are often quite willing to commit 100% to almost anything without being able to recognize the consequences of their commitment.  They do what feels right at the moment.  Adults around them work to help them learn to evaluate commitments wisely.  I know of no easy, cute way to deal with this.  But, it may be worth thinking about in sermon preparation.  If nothing else it complicates things a little – actually a little more.

The Texts for Today

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17

This is the second of two readings about Ruth.  If you used the All Saints readings on November 1, you will need to tell the whole story of Ruth today.  For a concise telling of the story try ”Two Brave Women” in The Family Story Bible, by Ralph Milton.  It covers the main movements in the story, but summarizes the harvest festival with “as Boaz and Ruth got to know each other, they fell in love and got married” and omits the sandal transaction entirely.  It can be read aloud in 5 minutes.

If you are devoting two Sunday’s to Ruth or if you want to explore in more detail the harvest festival and the sandal transaction (which are omitted buy the RCL), review the story from last week then read “Ruth Finds “Work” and “Happy Endings” in The Children’s Bible in 365 Stories, by Mary Batchelor.  (They can be read in a total of 5 minutes.)

Poussin, Nicolas, 1594?-1665. Summer, or, Ruth and Boaz,
from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved October 5, 2015].
Original source:

Look at this picture of gleaning. Point out the owner and the workers.  Describe some of the work being done.  Point out Ruth and her begging position.  Describe her job of picking up grain that the very efficient works left behind in or at the edge of the field.   Ponder how long it would take to gather up a sheaf like those the workers could cut with a single swipe of their blade.  Then describe the threshing of the wheat to make flour with which to make bread.  (This could be illustrated by using a dried wheat stalk from a craft store to show how small the wheat kernels are in comparison to the stalk.)  Insist that Ruth and Naomi had to do a lot of work to get a little bit to eat.

Many youth groups have gone gleaning in support of the local food bank.  If your youth have gleaned, refer to what they did to explain what Ruth did to feed herself and Naomi.

If you focused on family love last week, expand that love to the love of the stranger or outsider this week.  This story is in the Bible because it insists that God loves all people, not just the Jews or “people like us.”  So, if you did not do so last week, display a map of the Old Testament lands.  Point to Bethlehem identifying it as the place Naomi started out and the place to which she returned with Ruth.  Then point to Moab and note that people who lived in Bethlehem thought the people who lived in Moab were dirty, dumb, and “not as good as we are.”  They ignored people from Moab when they came around and treated them poorly.  Imagine how people in Bethlehem treated Ruth when she appeared with Naomi.  Then, read what happened repeating and reveling in the last statement that the great King David’s great grandmother was a woman from Moab. 

Identify and ask worshipers to identify who gets treated like Moabites today.  Ask what the Bible is telling us about those people.  Pray both for those people and for those who mistreat them.

Identify groups of foreigners that tend to get treated like Moabites today.  This fall that will probably lead to discussions about refugees and immigration debates.  As you sort through all the issues these foreigner present with the adults remember the children are listening too.  One good way to share these concerns in worship is to pray your way around the world praying for different groups of “foreigners” that are in the news.  Use a globe or projected map to give prayers reality.

Introduce the word hospitality defining it as welcoming strangers.  Describe some of your congregation’s ministries of hospitality to strangers both at the church and in the larger community.

Another way to explore this story with children is to point out after reading it that three people each did more than they had to in order to help others.  Ruth could have stayed in Moab with her family, but she moved to Bethlehem with Naomi and worked in the field to feed them.  Naomi could have sat in a corner and felt sorry for herself, but she carefully thought out a plan for Ruth to find a husband.  Boaz could have said that Ruth and Naomi were not his responsibility, but he went to the man who was responsible for them and offered to take them into his own home.  Children struggle to learn to “do more than they have to do” to make life better for people around them.  These three are models promoting such loving care and pointing out that such care often works out for those who care as well as those being cared for.

This theme also runs through the stories of the widow who fed Elijah and the widow who put her last two coins in the offering plate.

Laura Strauss in 2012 sent us all to the relationship between Shrek and Donkey as a parallel to this story.  They did not choose each other, but got stuck together.  Ruth didn't CHOOSE Naomi, nor did she CHOOSE Boaz - but she loved them, even so. She was faithful to them, though she could have just gone home to her mother's house or picked a path that didn't include Boaz. She chooses to love those whom God has placed in her life, those whom she is 'stuck' with, and God blessed those relationships.

To present this story with all the rather unfamiliar details, devote the sermon to a dialog between an older Ruth and Boaz recalling it and musing over it together. 

Psalm 127

The psalmist here reminds worshipers of something most children assume, that they can trust someone else to provide for them.  It is usually their parents, but trusting parents leads them to trusting God.  This is not something children can articulate, so I’d skip this psalm for the children.

1 Kings 17:8-16

This story is simple and simply presented.  To get the attention of the children before reading it, produce a bottle of cooking oil with only a little bit left in the bottom and a bag of flour rolled down indicating there is not much left in it.  Display them and tell worshipers that today’s story begins with a mother and son who have only that much oil and flour left in their kitchen – nothing else, no eggs, no meat, no peanut butter, nothing – and no hope of getting anything else.  Then read the story.

To help children follow this story turn it into readers’ theater or a simple skit using the script below.  The readers could stand in place to read.  Or, the narrator could read from the lectern while Elijah and the widow meet at the center to converse and walk off to the side together.  Though he has no speaking part, include a young boy as the widow’s son.  He may simply stand beside the widow or hold her hand.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
1 Kings 17:8-16

Narrator:  Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah, saying, "Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you."  So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said,

Elijah:  Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.

Narrator:  As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said,

Elijah:  Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.

Widow:  As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.

Elijah:  Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son.   For thus says the LORD the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth.

Narrator:  She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days.  The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah.

                                                            Based on NRSV
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Children, like people of all ages, think they will share when they have more than enough for themselves.  AND, they tend to think they never have quite enough.  This story insists that even when you are down to nothing, you can still share.  Eight days after Halloween, the candy stashes are gone or almost gone.  Talk about when it is easier to share, the day after Halloween when you have LOTS of candy or when you are down to your last two pieces.  The answer is that it is just as easy either time.  All you have do is decide to share.  Do be careful to avoid implying that if they share all their remaining Halloween candy, the stash will miraculously never run out!

Psalm 146

This psalm is suggested for both last week and this week.  In the USA there are local elections coming this week.  On November 10 some, including children, will be happy about the outcomes.  Others will be disappointed.  Verses 3-4 speak to both groups.  For the children add mayors, aldermen, school board members, etc. to “the princes.”  Note that no matter who won or lost, we still depend most on God’s power and love.  It could be read in unison or responsively using the script below.  The script replaces all the “hes” with “the Lord”

! * ! * ! * ! * ! * ! * ! * ! * ! * ! * ! * ! * ! * ! * !

Psalm 146

LEADER:  Praise the Lord!
                  Praise the Lord, my soul!

ALL:          I will praise him as long as I live;
                 I will sing to my God all my life.

LEADER:  Don’t put your trust in human leaders;
                  no human being can save you.
                  When they die, they return to the dust;
                  on that day all their plans come to an end.


The Lord created heaven, earth, and sea,
and all that is in them.

The Lord keeps every promise;

The Lord judges in favor of the oppressed

The Lord gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets prisoners free

The Lord gives sight to the blind.

The Lord lifts those who have fallen;

The Lord loves righteous people.

The Lord protects the strangers who live in our land;

The Lord helps widows and orphans,
but takes the wicked to their ruin.

LEADER:    The Lord is king forever.
           Your God, O Zion, will reign for all time.

ALL:             Praise the Lord!

                                                   Based on TEV

! * ! * ! * ! * ! * ! * ! * ! * ! * ! * ! * ! * ! * ! * !

Hebrews 9:24-28

The Hebrews readings are getting quite repetitive to me.  I also am finding as I get toward the end of the series that the Christ words poster/banner is harder to maintain.  This week’s verses suggest one of several theme words.  Depending on what you have done to date and your direction today, try…

ETERNAL or FORVER - as in Christ is present with us always. This word was used in Proper 25, so check there for ideas related to alpha and omega symbols in the sanctuary and singing “the time hymn” – Our God Our Help in Ages Past.  Or, highlight and explain the line “as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be” in the Gloria Patri.

FORGIVING - as in the reason Christ died was to forgive us.

ONCE AND FOR ALL - as in Christ died to forgive every one of us.  We are safe in Christ’s loving forgiveness.  (See Proper 26.)

Do remember all the previous cautions about children being offended by all the Hebrews talk about killing animals in order to get God to forgive them.

Mark 12:38-44

To grab the attention of children and to emphasize the comparison of the teachers of the Law and the widow, read verses 38-40 in proud tones and with arrogant gestures from the lectern.  Then, taking your Bible with you, move to the offering plates to read verses 41-44 about the widow’s gift in simpler more straight-forward tones.

JESUS MAFA. The Widow's Mite, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved October 7, 2015].
Use this picture and one of your offering baskets/plates to compare the different ways of collecting money.  Note what is the same and different about them, i.e. their size, location, and when people contributed to them.  Then insist that the money put in both was used in similar ways, i.e. to pay for the worship services and to take care of people who needed God’s loving care.  Then, read the story from the gospel.

Out of holiday season the easiest place to get this book is
your public library.  The art in this copy is very dated,
but I am not sure you need to share any art,
just read the words.
Why the Chimes Rang, by Raymond MacDonald Alden, is usually read at Christmas time, but it fits this story well.  Two young brothers who are poor set out to go to the cathedral on Christmas Eve to see the great service and all the rich people bring their grand gifts in hopes of hearing the chimes that are said to ring when great gifts are given.  On the way they come upon a woman dying in the snow on the side of the road.  The older brother sends the younger to the cathedral with a single coin to put in the offering while he stays behind to help the dying woman.  The younger brother is in awe of what he sees.  Before he leaves he slips near the altar to leave their coin and the chimes ring.  The story can be read in about 10 minutes.

Many commentators insist that this is more about the church’s tendency to recognize the rich and powerful while ignoring those on the margins than it is about the significance of the widow’s small gift.  They connect it with God responding to Ruth and Naomi on the margins in their day.  Build on their theme by describing one or two of your congregation’s ministries to people (especially women) on the margins of your town

Challenge children to put at least some of their very own money in the offering plate.  Suggest they think about their birthday money, money they have earned or money they have been given to spend as they wish.  Be clear you are not talking about the money parents give them to put in the offering or about money they are given for other specific purposes – just money that is theirs to spend however they wish.  Point out that it may not be much, but that by giving it now they are starting to build habits for their whole life.  Insist that it is no easier to give money when you have lots of it than it is when you have little.  Use the widow as an example.

Alexander Who Used to be Rich Last Week, by Judith Viorst, describes  one little boy (yes, the same Alexander of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad, No Good Day) who spends money given him by his grandparents in a series of very silly ways.  In the end he is left with nothing of value.  Read it or a couple of pages of it today to explore using money on things that are important rather than just spending it on anything we think we want at the moment.

Faith Formations Journeys suggests giving children each 2 pennies after talking about all the stuff we have and instructing them to put one in the offering plate and keep one as a reminder of this story.  Go to there for details.  I might leave out the discussion about all our stuff and focus on the story and the pennies.  To avoid the confusion about the woman putting in both her pennies and the children being asked to put in only one of theirs, give the pennies out separately.  Give one penny to each child with instructions to put it in the offering plate remembering the widow.  Then give each child a second penny to take home as a reminder of the story.  Maybe have them put that penny in their shoe or a pocket.  This will be most effective when done just before the offering is collected in worship.