Thursday, September 30, 2010

Year C – 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time (October 10, 2010)

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
Pray and work for others in Babylon

Jeremiah insists that God’s people living in exile look around, get to know the people and place where they are living, and contribute to its well being.  Children today need to be reminded that they are to look around themselves and notice what is going on with other people in their family, neighborhood, class, team…..   They are to both pray for these people and also do things that make life better for all these people.  That makes this an opportunity to introduce several methods of intercessory prayer and explore the reality that praying for someone usually leads us to take act on their behalf.

If your congregation publicly collects prayer concerns before a prayer that focuses on intercession, take time to explain what you are doing and why. 

Introduce the practice of praying on the run, i.e. offering very short silent prayers for a person while you are with them, e.g. “She looks really unhappy, God.  Please take care of her.” 

Many children’s bedtime prayers include a long list of “God blesses.”  Encouraging children to pray this list thoughtfully adding people they have encountered during the day who they want to name to God, encourages them to see other people and develop a sense of relationship with them.  For younger children simply naming people, “God bless my teacher,” is enough.  Older children can be more specific, “God thank you for my teacher.  I really like him.” Or “God, help my teacher.  She was really crabby today.  Help her feel happier tomorrow.”  (A children’s time about this subtly encourages parents to work on this practice at home.  Including it in The Sermon invites children to listen to sermons and encourages adults to practice bedtime reflection on their day and intercessory prayer based on the day.  Bedtime prayers are just a kid thing.)

The Problem We All Live With
A painting of Ruby Bridges by Norman Rockwell

Often the “God blesses” sound like a list of our favorite people and activities.  Jeremiah challenges his readers to pray for those who are holding them captive.  The Story of Ruby Bridges may be the best parallel story from fairly recent history.  First grader Ruby was one of the African American children who integrated a white school in the 1960s.  Every day for months she was escorted by policemen through a crowd of jeering, angry adults to a classroom where she for a long time was the only student.  Her teacher watching her approach asked Ruby why she looked up each day.  Ruby explained that each day she asked God to forgive the people in the crowd.  Ruby obviously knew how to pray for other people.  Her church and family had taught her that practice and prayed with her.  Many children hear Ruby’s story read as a window into racial problems in America.  Today, tell it and explore it as an example of the possibility of praying for those who are definitely not your friends.  Ruby’s prayer was:

Please, God, try to forgive those people.
Because even if they say those bad things,
They don't know what they're doing.
So You could forgive them,
Just like You did those folks a long time ago.

Praying for others is only half the task.  We are also to work on the behalf of those for whom we pray.  As children pay attention to people around them and pray for them, they can say kind words to people who don’t get many kind words.  They can make friends with those who don’t have many friends.  They can comfort a person who is sad.  They can congratulate and celebrate with someone who done something really cool.  They become God’s partners in making what they prayed for happen.

Psalm 66:1-12
Praise God for Great Deeds

I was going to suggest that this psalm with all its references to Old Testament stories is for the adults.  But this morning’s news brought stories of a 13 year old who killed himself after being bullied and a college student who jumped from a bridge after his roommate posted on the internet a secretly made video of him in an intimate homosexual relationship.  These stories immediately took me to verses 10-12 with all the references to times of testing.  Perhaps this is an opportunity to tell the children that there are times of testing for everyone, times at home when it feels like everyone else in the family has needs that come before ours, times at school when people do not treat us well, times when it feels we will never be able to do what we want most to do or learn the hard subject we must learn, times when we feel lonely and ugly and miserable and trapped.  When those times come there are three things to that help us get through them.
1.       Remembering that even the hardest times do not last forever.  Things will get better.  (This is not easy to believe in the middle of the testing, but it is true.)
2.       Finding at least one person older than you to whom you can tell your problems.  Suggest specific possibilities, including yourself and others at church.  (To develop this further, explore the role of the church as a community that takes care of each other in testing times.  I’ll bet the people in the Jeremiah text sought out friends among themselves as they settled into Exile.)
3.       Knowing that God is with you and loves through the worst of times.   

2 Timothy 2:8-15
Paul tells Timothy to persevere

Paul is still giving Timothy advice.  Today he is urging him to be persistent in his ministry.  One way to share his advice with children is to introduce the word “persevere.”  Print it in large letters on a large sheet of paper.  Practice saying it together.  Then tell them that it means “stick with it” or “don’t give up.”  Explore the meaning of perseverance with one of the stories below. Conclude by noting that Paul wanted Timothy to persevere in his work as a minister.  He was to keep at it even on the days when it wasn’t very interesting or exciting and on the days when it felt hard, even dangerous.

From the Bible:  Noah building the ark while his neighbors laughed at him.

Two fables about perseverance:

The Tortoise and the Hare (an Aesop Fable)  

The Little Hero of Holland (story of Dutch boy holding finger in a hole in the dike all night)

In Lord of the Rings Frodo and Sam must overcome many obstacles to get their ring back where it belongs.  The same is true of Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy on their adventures in The Chronicles of Narnia.  While it sounds more exciting to persevere in the kinds of daring tasks they did, we are called on to do the same in refusing to give up on learning hard subjects at school, conquering our fears, etc. 

A few real life stories about perseverance:

When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876.  After making a demonstration call, President Rutherford Hayes said, "That's an amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one of them?"

When Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, he tried over 2000 experiments before he got it to work. A young reporter asked him how it felt to fail so many times. He said, "I never failed once. I invented the light bulb. It just happened to be a 2000-step process."

Many famous authors got dozens of rejection slips before their books get accepted for publication and go on to become best sellers.

Pray for perseverance. Invite worshipers of all ages to name times they feel like giving up.  Either gather the list, then let a leader voice prayers on behalf of the congregation or turn the suggestions into prayers as they are offered by asking the congregation to respond to each one “God, help us to persevere.”

Luke 17:11-19
Jesus Heals 10 lepers; one says thank you

Because children are constantly reminded to say “please” and “thank you,” this story can sound like one more demand for good manners.  The trick is to get past good manners to the gratitude that underlies the spoken “thank you.”  One way to do that is to focus on identifying our blessings rather than on saying thank you. 

Define blessing as something wonderful that makes your life good and that you did not earn or provide for yourself.  Note that anything can be a blessing-  or not.  Food is a good example.  In the movie Shenandoah, a father of a family prays over a table loaded with good food,  “We planted it, tended it, harvested it, and cooked it.  Nothing would be on this table if we had not put it there, but thanks anyway.”  Food was not a blessing to that man.  Another prayer over food is describes each wonderful dish on the table and where the food in it came from thanking God for creating each fruit and vegetable and meat.  For that person, food is a blessing. 

Recite the first line of The Doxology.  Name some of your blessings.  Ask other worshipers to name some of their blessings.  Then, invite the whole congregation to sing the Doxology.

Print the words to “For the Beauty of the Earth” in the center of a page leaving ample margins around the edges.  Invite children to write and draw their blessings around the margins to illustrate the hymn.

Using hymnbooks or the printed pages above, together walk through the words of “For the Beauty of the Earth” identifying examples of all the blessings listed.  Also count all the different kinds of blessings you find there.  Then sing the hymn.

The tenth leper was most likely a person who could recognize lots of blessings every day, even when he was sick. 

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