Friday, December 31, 2010

Year A - Seventh Sunday in Epiphany, Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (February 20, 2011)

Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18

Unlike the NRSV, Today’s English Version (The Good News Bible) does not assume that the reader knows about gleaning and other old practices.  That makes it easier for children to follow.

Invite the congregation to join in reading the scripture by saying the “I am the Lord” phrase each time it appears.  Print the text in the bulletin and explain the meaning of the phrase in this context before reading together.  The script below uses Today’s English Version.


Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18

Leader:            The Lord told Moses to say to the community of Israel,
Be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy. 
When you harvest your fields,
     do not cut the corn at the edges of the fields,
     and do not go back to cut the ears of corn that were left.  
Do not go back through your vineyard to gather the grapes
     that were missed or to pick up the grapes that have fallen;
     leave them for poor people and foreigners.

All:                  I am the Lord your God.

Leader:            Do not steal or cheat or lie.  
Do not make a promise in my name if you do not intend to keep it;
                   that brings disgrace on my name.

All:                  I am the Lord your God.

Leader:            Do not take advantage of anyone or rob him.
Do not hold back the wages of someone you have hired,
     not even for one night.  
Do not curse a deaf man or
     put something in front of a blind man so as to make him stumble.
Obey me;

All:                  I am the Lord your God.

Leader:            Be honest and just when you make decisions in legal cases;
     do not show favouritism to the poor or fear the rich.  
Do not spread lies about anyone, and
     when someone is on trial for his life,
                  speak out if your testimony can help him.

All:                  I am the Lord.

Leader:            Do not bear a grudge against anyone,
                             but settle your differences with him,
                             so that you will not commit a sin because of him.  
Do not take revenge on anyone or continue to hate him,
     but love your neighbour as you love yourself.

All:                  I am the Lord.


Most children are told (and want) to be cool, smart, happy, good…   But Moses is calling them to be “holy.”   Most of them have no real idea of what that means.  Some may connect “holy” with extra good (maybe even overly good) people and therefore not want to make it a goal for themselves.  They will need help defining the word.

One starting point is the fact that the word is used to describe God.  If the word appears anywhere in the sanctuary, point it out.  Look at the Holy of Holy Bible.  Consider starting worship by singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” and then talking about what we sang about God.


work with the fact that we are made in God’s image and are meant to be as like God as we can be.  That means we are supposed to be holy.  The specific commands in the text provide examples of what God does that is holy and the ways God calls us to be holy.


point out that holy means set aside for God.  Just as the Bible, the communion table, etc are set aside for the service of God, we are also set aside to be God’s people.  That means we are holy.  At our baptism we are set aside for God. 

To explore how we are set aside for God at our baptism and thus holy, select a few key phrases from your congregation’s ritual.  For me, it would be “you are Christ’s forever” and maybe “do you renounce evil.”  Talk briefly about what each phrase says about how we live every day at school and how we treat other people. 

Side bar:  Many children hear the word holy most often in expletives -  holy smoke, holy mackerel, holy cow, and probably a number of phrases you’d rather not utter in the sanctuary, but which one of them will if given a chance.  It is possible to note these phrases illustrating with a few of your choice, then point out that they make no sense at all.  They are simply things we say when we are so frustrated or angry that we have to say something flashy.  Rather than use holy which refers to God to do this we can use other words.  Some children make up long twisted words or phrases like “horseradish pickles.”  A case can be made that using holy in this way is misusing God’s name.  This is definitely a side bar and not the heart of today’s worship themes.

At the beginning of the service, identify HOLY as the word of the day and challenge children to count the number of times it is used in worship.  Hear their counts as they leave the sanctuary and congratulate them on their effort.

Psalm 119:33-44

This is the second of the Psalm 119 readings.  It continues the alphabet poem with today’s verses starting with the Hebrew letter he.  It could be read following the reading plan for the psalm on the Fifth Sunday in Epiphany.  The synonyms for Law that were featured for the psalm on the Sixth Sunday in Epiphany could also be used here. 

All the lines of this section start with a verb asking God’s help in living by the Law, or for today’s purposes for being holy.  After reading the lines the poet offers, make up some of your own and challenge worshipers to create lines of their own, e.g.
Teach me how to tell the truth – all the time
Show me how to be a good big brother
Remind me to be kind even to people who are not kind to me

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

The “you” in this passage is the church not any individual.  The church is God’s temple, where God is present and known.  The writer is exploring the value of the church and the responsibility of leaders and members to care for it, protect it, even keep it “holy” (tying into the Leviticus reading).  Children are ready to hear this message, but will not be able to hear it as the text is read.  Instead, they will depend on worship leaders to identify and explore the theme.

As background for the text, identify leaders in your congregation. 

Identify the elected leaders and give a brief child-friendly description of their responsibilities.  Ask those who fill those offices to stand so the children and others can see them. 

In addition, identify some of the unelected leaders.  Name some people who take care of the church by quietly doing specific jobs, e.g. people who set up the sanctuary for worship, people who take a turn in the church nursery, people who maintain the church’s library or kitchen, or anyone else who does work that cares for the church. 

If you pray for the leaders of your congregation, be as specific as possible.  Name the offices and pray about the work of those in that office.  Though you may not want to name names of unelected leaders you can pray for those who do very specific tasks.

Thank you God for the people who work so hard on the worship planning team to provide prayers and songs and readings that guide all of us every day. 

God, be with the deacons as they visit people who are sick and sad and lonely.  Help them find the words to say that will remind people how much you love them and how much we love them.  Keep them safe as they deliver food and run errands for people.

Use the finger-play “Here is the church, Here is the steeple, Open the doors to see all the people.”  The second verse (with fingers on the outside instead of inside) is “You can have a church, But not have a steeple, But you can’t have a church without any people.”  After demonstrating the finger play and inviting everyone to go through it with you, keep your fingers up and wiggling.  Announce that today we are thinking about the fingers, the people of the church, that is us.  Point out that every one of us is responsible for the care and protection of the church. 

Matthew 5:38-48

Love here is a verb that means treat with respect.  To most children love is a feeling or the way you act when you feel good about someone.  Jesus’ teaching is that we should treat everyone, even people we do not feel good about and those who are  not nice to us, with respect.  We must remember that no matter how they are treating us, they are God’s children and we need to treat them with respect.  This takes some explaining!

If the children seated are near you, hold out your hand and ask a child to slap your hand.  After the slap act surprised and say, “You slapped me!  I owe you one.”   Then insist that the child hold out his or her hand.  Gently slap it.  Then say, “Oh no!  Now you owe me a slap.” and offer your hand.  Continue for several rounds.  Then, stop yourself before you slap the child’s hand.  “This could go on forever.”  Announce that you are owed a chance to slap, but you are not going to take it.  It is the only way you can stop the slapping.  Thank the child who slapped with you.  Then, note to everyone that this was a rather silly demonstration of something serious we face all the time.  If someone hurts us, we want to hurt them back.  If they call us a name, we call them one back.  If someone breaks something of ours, we want to break something of theirs.  If someone slaps or hits or kicks, we want to slap or hit or kick back.  The problem with that is that every one forgets who started it and keeps on hurting each other.  Jesus tells us we have the power to stop all the hurting.  Even if we deserve a chance to hit or kick or call names back when someone hurts us, we can refuse.  It is one of the hardest things Jesus asks us to do.  Note briefly that this doesn’t mean we should let anyone who wants to hurt us do so any way they can at any time they want.  What Jesus says is that we should find another way to get things straightened out.  Lots of time we need help to figure out that way.  Jesus knows that and urges us to get all the help we can, but not to hit, slap, kick, hurt back. 

Several stories in which children refuse to participate in revenge are worthy sermon illustrations.

The Story of Ruby Bridges, by Robert Coles, tells the true story of a seven year old African American girl who was escorted to school every day for months by federal marshals through angry yelling white crowds as schools were desegregated in the American south.  Each day she prayed asking God to forgive the people who were yelling at her.  Children may have heard this story during Black History month at school as an example of how hard it was to end segregation.  Revisit the story in worship as an example of a girl who chose to forgive rather than retaliate.  Check this out from the public library if it available.

The Christmas Menorahs: How A Town Fought Hate, by Janice Cohn, is too long to read in worship (40 pages).  Read it in advance and tell the story in your own words during the sermon.  A hate group threw a rock through the bedroom window of a Jewish boy in Billings, Montana.  There was a menorah lit in the window.  In response the children of all faiths in the town drew menorahs to put in their own windows.  The local newspaper printed a full page menorah for families to color in.  A Catholic high school posted a huge banner that read, "Let's all try to get along."  It was the community’s way of standing up to a bunch of bullies.  The book includes the legend about the King of Denmark wearing a yellow star when the occupying Nazis decreed that all Jews must wear a yellow star.  Available in many public libraries.

Enemy Pie, by Derek Munson, is a picture book describing how Dad helped his son get rid of a neighborhood enemy by baking an enemy pie.  The secret ingredient in the pie was that the son had to spend the entire afternoon with his enemy being nice to him.  Of course the enemy was dispatched by becoming  a friend.  The story could be told briefly in your own words during the sermon or could be read in its entirety in 10 minutes.  While it is a bit simplistic, the story teaches a clear message and is enjoyed by listeners of all ages.  Though the story is not widely familiar, I found several copies in the local public library.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Year A - Sixth Sunday in Epiphany Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (February 13, 2011)

Deuteronomy 30: 15-20

Two ways to read this passage in worship:

Tell the back story.  Imagine Moses with all the people on the edge of the Promised Land.  Recall the escape from Egypt, the 10 Commands, the 40 years in the wilderness.  Point out that Moses is old and has appointed a new leader to take the people into the Land God promised them.  This is Moses’ goodbye speech.  Then read the text, or ask an elderly man who is well known in the congregation to read it.

Invite children forward and meet them on the steps with the big Bible.  Ask how many of them have been told to make good choices.  After briefly talking about what people mean when they give you “the good choices lecture,” point out that the first good choices lecture is in the Bible.  Briefly tell the story of Moses leading the people out of Egypt and through the wilderness.  Recall God’s opening the sea for their escape, providing food and water when it was needed, and giving them the 10 Commandments to show them how to live.  Explain that the people are now right on the border of the Promised Land.  Before he hands leadership over to Joshua, Moses gives the people some advice about living in their new homes.  Then read the Deuteronomy text using your voice and facial expressions to emphasize the choices Moses is offering the people.  This is best as the “real” reading of the text for the entire congregation.

The hard part about “choosing life” is that instead of making one big choice that you make once and then go about your business, you have to choose life in lots of little choices that you make every day.  For example, given the choice between getting and A or an F on your report card, most people would choose the A.  But to get that A requires lots of choices every day, like, "should I do my homework or play a computer game?"  The only way to get the A is to choose to study every day.  In the same way, if we want to live in a happy family, we have to choose to help out sometimes rather than do we want to do all the time.  Likewise, if we want to choose God’s ways, we have to make that choice over and over again every day.

Psalm 119:1-8

This is the first of two readings from Psalm 119, a long alphabet poem made up of sections of lines beginning with the same letter.  All the lines in this week’s section begin with the Hebrew letter aleph.  It can be read by a group of children or by the congregation following the plan for Psalm 112 for Psalm 119 in the Fifth Sunday in Epiphany. 

Psalm 119 is a poem praising God’s Law.  It is filled with lots of big words that mean the same thing as Law.  Since these words show up other places in the Bible and in worship, use this as an opportunity to introduce the words.  Try one or more of the following:

Make a poster of the words.  Introduce each word simply as another word for God’s rules.  Invite the congregation to say them with you.  Leave them on display for the rest of the service. (This poster is based on NRSV.  Be sure your poster matches your translation.)


If the text is printed in the bulletin, after presenting the word poster, suggest that worshipers underline each word they see in the text.  

Then read the text aloud with worshipers following along in their bulletins.

To join the psalmist in pondering the value of good rules, explore the importance of rules to games.  Good rules are what makes the game fun to play.  Consider the mess that results when soccer or checkers players don’t play by the rules of the game.  Don’t expect children to make the jump to the rules for life.

Since the subject of both this psalm and the gospel reading is God's Law, think some about how children understand and use rules:    Children first see rules as indisputable givens ordained by the adults.  The youngest follow them to avoid punishment from the enforcing adults.  By kindergarten they are using the rules to get rewards and win approval from the adults.  During early elementary school children begin to understand that rules can be negotiated.  We can decide the rules we live by.  At this time, children will often spend more time vigorously debating the rules of a game than they do playing the game.  They also insist that once agreed on the rules must be enforced strictly and apply to all.  “That isn’t fair!” is the outraged cry of this stage.  As adolescence comes, young people begin to see the difference between literally enforcing a rule and following the spirit behind the rule.  That is a big jump that many never make, or make with some rules but not others.

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Paul is addressing a complex adult situation in a church long ago.  It would take a lot of explaining to get children to understand what was going on then; and once they understood they wouldn’t much care.  Two points do speak to children without understanding the rest of what is going on.

Paul says that people who are jealous and who quarrel are acting like babies and need to grow up.   Jealousy means wanting everything someone else has or is that you like.  Jealous people can’t see anything they like without wanting it for themselves.   One description of a two year olds law of possession is “I see it.  I want it.  It’s mine!”   Grownups can see something beautiful that someone else has or something wonderful that they can do without thinking, “That should be mine!  I want it!”  None of us, even when we are 90 years old, are totally grownup, which means all of us have to work on not being jealous of others and what they have.  Similarly, nobody agrees with everyone else all the time.  We want different things.  We understand things differently.  "Babies" want everyone to agree with them all the time and fuss (or quarrel) with anyone who does not.  “Do it my way!” they insist.  Grown-ups know that people are different and work to get along with people who disagree with them. 

Paul says that each person has an important contribution to make to the whole church.  God knits all those contributions together.  For children (and adults) today that means that everyone in their church has something to offer.  Some sing in the choir, some work at the soup kitchen, some teach church school, some coach church sports teams, and so forth.  Each one is needed and no one is better than the others.  God uses everyone’s contribution.

Matthew 5:21-37

This reading includes Jesus’ sayings about four separate laws. 

To keep them separate, have each one read by a different reader. 

Or, If the preacher is going to comment on all four of them, consider reading the sections one at the time with the preacher commenting on each one as it is read.  The back and forth between the reader and the preacher will keep the attention of younger worshipers.

The sayings about anger may be the most challenging for people of all ages.  Jesus begins by setting aside the belief that it’s OK to be angry as long as you don’t act on it in a way that hurts someone.  Fortunately he also seems to assume that everyone does get angry and then offers a suggestion about coping with anger.  The specifics of his suggestion are foreign to children today, but the idea behind them is still the best advice available to children.  To today’s children Jesus says,
Everyone gets angry.  It just happens.  Good people get angry as often as bad people do.  Adults, teenagers, and children all get angry.  So the question is what do you do when you get angry. 

First (and Jesus doesn’t suggest this in Matthew), take a little break.  Give yourself time out, count to ten, do something physical (shoot baskets, scrub a floor), enjoy your favorite music,  whatever works for you.  If you feel like shouting and calling someone names, do it where no one else can hear. 

Next (and Jesus does say not to wait too long to do this), name the problem that makes you angry and figure out something to do about it.  The Bible says, “be reconciled” with the person who made you angry.  That means work it out with It with them.  Figure out how to solve the problem between you.  That is not easy.  Frequently it helps to get advice or help from other people. 

If you need examples of things that make children angry, try some of the following.
Your little sister just drew pictures all over your homework…
Your brother borrowed your ball glove and left it outside in the rain…
Your father blamed you for something you did not do…
Your mother insists that you babysit your little brother instead of play with
     your friend….

A biblical example of the danger of unaddressed anger that may be familiar to children:  Joseph’s big brothers were angry (Joseph was dad’s favorite, got a special coat, told them dreams he had in which they bowed down to him).  The brothers let their anger build.  Then when they got the chance, they threw Joseph in a pit and were going to leave him there (murder), when they had a chance to sell him to passing slave traders (definitely a sin).

The section on adultery with its unfamiliar vocabulary will fly over the heads of most children and that is just fine.

The sayings about divorce are aimed at the adults, but the children know all about divorce.  All the studies say that parental divorces cause deep pain to children and leave lasting scars.  So in addressing this issue with the adults, do remember the children are listening, some quite intently.  Name some of the pain divorce inflicts on children – two houses with two different sets of rules, upended holidays, loss of image of themselves set in a sturdy family.  (Many therapists say older children and youth actually lose their sense of identity when their parents divorce and must be helped to recreate a new identity that fits the new situation.) 

Build around Jesus’ insistence that divorce is a sin, the grace that he offers all sinners.  But don’t expect children to grasp that general statement and apply it to their parents.  Name a number of common sins such as lying cheating, stealing, jealousy, fighting.  Describe in specifics the damage they do.  And, note that God forgives us for all these things – and forgives people when their marriages become so broken that divorce is the only way out.  Make sure the children know that God still loves parents who get divorced and the children whose parents get divorces.

The verses on swearing oaths address the complicated ways people of that day were trying to avoid telling the whole or real truth.  Children today are familiar with “stretching the truth,” telling white lies, fish tales (how big was that fish?!), and crossing your fingers behind your back while telling a lie.  Jesus says all of these ways of avoiding telling the truth are wrong.  We are to tell the truth always.

One of the best known stories about the problem with not telling the truth is “The Boy who called Wolf!”
Once there was a boy who spent his days taking care of the sheep near his village.  When he was bored one day, just to see what would happen, he yelled “Wolf!”  All the villagers stopped what they were doing and ran to help him protect the sheep.   “Fooled you,” he laughed.   A few days later, thinking about how funny everyone looked running from the village, he cried “wolf!” again.  And, again the villagers left what they were doing and ran to his aid.  “Fooled you again!” he laughed long and loud.  So, the following week, when a wolf really did appear slowly circling the sheep, and the boy cried, “Wolf!” the villagers stayed where they were and kept on with their work.  Without the help of the villagers the boy could not keep the wolf from killing and dragging off several sheep, sheep the villagers could not afford to lose. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Stories for Worship

Many of the members of the lectionary study group of which I am a member are considering reading a story rather than preaching a sermon on the December 26.  That led to sharing favorite Christmas stories that can be used in worship.  Thinking that such a list might be useful, I started with their lists and added what I found in a couple of bookstores and libraries to create the annotated list below.  There is nothing on the list I have not read.  And, the list is incomplete.  For now I’m posting it as is and will add to it.  Please join the sharing by adding your favorite stories in Comments.  Though the list a little late for this year, it may yet be useful to some of us and it will be a good start on a list for future years.

Stories on this list need to:
-          Appeal to people of all ages
-          Have a theme that is often present in Christmas worship
-          Be easily available in libraries or book stores
-          Be read aloud in time appropriate to worship 
           (I offered reading times for those I could)
-          Have not been made into a televised Christmas special

Stories About Christmas Celebrations and Themes

Baboushka: A Christmas Folktale from Russia, retold by Arthur Scholey
           (Reading time: 7-9 minutes)
The Legend of Old Befana, by Tomie de Paola
Both of these stories one from Russia and one from Italy describe grumpy old women who turn down invitations from the wise men to join them on their trip to see the baby king in order to keep up with their housework.  Each later changes her mind, follows after the kings, but is too late.  She thereafter distributes gifts of toys and/or cookies to children.  Of the two, Old Befana seems more changed and happier in the end to me.  But either story is fine.

The Night of Las Posadas, by Tomie de Paola

Las Posadas is a Hispanic reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for a room in Bethlehem.  In this story Mary and Joseph players are held up in the snow.  The Mary and Joseph statue in the local church miraculously take their places.  The beautifully told story is a wonderful way for Anglo congregations to see Christmas as celebrated in other cultures.  De Paola’s art is of course wonderful, but it not essential to understanding the story.  Reading time is just under 10 minutes, but will have to be preceded by a brief introduction to Las Posadas.  Non- Hispanic readers will need to practice saying all the Spanish names in advance.

Why the Chimes Rang, by Raymond MacDonald Alden
In this 2006 release of a 1909 classic, the coin given to a little boy by his brother who gave up the trip to the great cathedral on Christmas Eve to take care of an old woman dying in the snow causes the cathedral chimes to ring.  Other magnificent gifts given out of the abundance of the givers did not do so.

The Give Away: A Christmas Story in the Native American Tradition, by Ray Buckley
All the animals of the forest gather worrying about the two legged ones who have lost their sense of who they are.  After describing the ways the four leggeds are lost, several animals offer to give up some of their abilities in order that the four leggeds can come to their senses.  Finally, the Great Creator announces that he will become a baby.  He points to the great ancient tree and notes that his self sacrifice will be needed to hold the child at both the beginning and end of his life.  The art creates part of the reverent mood of the meeting in a deep forest, but the story could be read without showing the art.
A good story to match with John’s Prologue.
Reading time: just under 10 minutes

Emma’s Gift, by Molly Schaar Idle
Emma begins Christmas disappointed.  It isn’t snowing and her grandmother isn’t coming.  She does like her grandmother’s present of a rainbow scarf, mittens and red boots.  Sent into town to buy a wreath, Emma gives the mittens to a man standing outside a soup kitchen, uses the scarf to rescue a kitten from a rain barrel and return him to the elderly woman who was his family, and gave the boots to the boy with a hole in his sneakers who was selling wreaths.  On her way home she is surprised to meet her grandmother who is proud of her when she tells what she did with her gifts.  This might be a good story for December 26th in the aftermath of all the gift giving.  Reading time: 10 minutes.

Great Joy, by Kate DiCamillo
Frances who lives with her mother in a mid-twentieth century city is fascinated by a homeless organ grinder and his monkey.  Her mother does not share her concern for the man.  On the way to the Christmas pageant in which she will be an angel, Frances stops to speak to the man and invite him to church.  She almost forgets her one line, until the man comes through the door.  She shouts her announcement of great joy.  In the last picture he is seen at the reception after the pageant apparently welcomed.  It’s a bare bones story about welcoming the stranger and those in need.  Reading time: just over 5 minutes.

Christmas Day in the Morning, by Pearl S. Buck
A man recalls the Christmas he was 15 and got up early to do all the milking before his father came to get him to help with it.  It’s a bit of a tear jerker, but might offer worshippers ideas for similar gifts they could give their family.  Indeed, there is a note at the beginning from the illustrator who says that after hearing this story his children had gotten up in the middle of the night and cleaned the kitchen before the family Christmas party.
Reading time just under 10 minutes.

The Star of Christmas, by Maria T. DiVencenzo
During the night a little girl has a conversation with the ornaments on the Christmas tree about which is the star of Christmas.  In addition to the expected china doll and elf are a wiseman ornament that insists it is star because of the importance of giving, a silver bell that speaks of music, and a dove who reminds the girl of the importance of peace.  Of course, the child in the manger is proclaimed the star in the end.  Simple and a little trite, but OK.  Reading time: just over 10 minutes.

The Gift of the Magi, O. Henry (Candlewyck Press, 2008)
This well known story is presented here as a picture book.  While the drawings are lovely and help children enter the story about two adults, the words can carry the story on their own.  It would take over 10 minutes to read.  It would be equally appropriate on Christmas Eve or on December 26.  To catch the children’s attention, I would introduce it by saying like, “Most Christmas stories are about children.  This one is about two grownups.  They are young adults, not long married, very poor, and living on their own in the city.  They love each other very much.”

Penny’s Christmas Jar Miracle, by Jason F. Wright
Penny’s family saves spare change in a jar all year, then gives it as a special gift to someone at Christmas.  This year Penny suggests to her family that they use it to provide a neighborhood Christmas party.  As preparations begin Penny becomes aware that an elderly neighbor is sick at home.  So, she works with her family and neighbors to take the party to his house and to bring lots of Christmas jars to help with his medicine bills.  Reading time almost 15 minutes.

Retellings of the Biblical Stories

The Grumpy Shepherd, by Paddie Devon
The story of the shepherds, especially Joram, who was a very grumpy shepherd.  The sense of humor about  a shepherd who feels less than reverent as Christmas Eve begins might be especially appreciated by people who arrive at Christmas Eve worship stressed out by all the getting ready.  The story could be read without sharing the art.  Or, the picture of Joram on the cover of the book could be shown to introduce Joram and his frame of mind.  Reading time: 7-8 minutes.

To Whom the Angel Spoke, by Terry Kay
Three shepherds who are very different in shape, size, race, and outlook on life respond to the angel’s announcement of Jesus birth.  Their responses are both as different as they are and similarly joy-filled.  An artistic retelling of the story of the shepherds.  Art in the book is beautiful, but small.  The words could be read in worship without sharing the art.
Reading time: 15 -20 minutes.

A Shepherd’s Gift, by Mary Calhoun
A young shepherd boy chases his runaway lamb into the stable where Jesus has just been born.  He offers to help by bringing water and then offers his lamb as a gift.  They can shear the lamb to get a soft fleece for Jesus so he would not be scratched by the straw.  Golden light bathes the art in this sweet shepherd story.  Reading time: just over 5 minutes

Who Is Coming to Our House, by Joseph Slate
Simple drawings and sparse words delivered in a cadence tell of the animals getting ready to welcome a guest to the stable.  It is probably best used repeatedly (think “Goodnight, Moon”) at bedtime with preschoolers  during Advent.  The only “problem” with it is that it does not tell who Jesus is or the story of his birth.  Mary and Joseph appear on one page and the animals are gathered around them and Jesus in the manger on the last page.  Still, it could be read in worship to remind worshipers that just as each animal did something to welcome Jesus, each of us can do simple things to welcome Jesus today.  Since the animals are all about “welcoming” their guest, the story can be read on Dec 26 as part of a conversation of welcoming Jesus into our world every day.  It can be read in worship in 3-4 minutes, even without using the pictures and can take much longer to read with one inquisitive child.

Aaron’s Secret Message, by Marcus Pfister
Aaron, a young resident of Bethlehem, has a dream about a star.  The next day he sees Mary, Joseph and the donkey looking for a place to stay.  Eventually he leads them to the stable and helps make it warm and snug.  The star is overhead.
Reading time:5 minutes

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Year A - Fifth Sunday in Epiphany, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (February 6, 2011)

Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12)

What can you say about the fact that a text about fasting is the lesson for the day on Super Bowl Sunday, the biggest junk food pig out on the American calendar?!  Many churches will also celebrate communion on this day.  Delicious ironies abound – for the adults!

Fasting is not a spiritual discipline with which children are familiar.  They may not even know the word.  If you work with this text in worship take time to introduce fasting.  Define it as the practice of going without food for a set time in order to remind yourself that food is not the most important thing in life.  If your congregation will practice “giving something up for Lent” in four weeks, lay the groundwork this week explaining why it is done and comparing it to fasting.  Describe the Muslim practice of fasting from sunrise to sunset every day for the month of Ramadan.  Then, describe the problems with fasting that Isaiah was warning against.  Imagine together how one might get crabby while one fasts.  Only then will children and other worshipers be ready to listen to this passage read

Psalm 112:1-9 (10)

This is one of the alphabet psalms.  Each line begins with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet .  The poet is rhyming ideas rather than sounds.  Every line says something about “the righteous” or “good people.”  To highlight its format and help worshipers of all ages appreciate its message, briefly explain then it and then read the psalm “artfully.”  Have a worship leader call out the Hebrew letter before each line is read.  The lines may be read by the entire congregation or by an older children’s class (think choir without music).  If a class reads the lines, they may read in unison or individuals may read the lines in turn.  The practice required for a class to prepare this reading is an opportunity for children to work with worship leaders and for children to become worship leaders.   This script below is free translation written with young readers in mind.  You could create a similar script using any Biblical translation


Psalm 112

ALL:              Praise the Lord!

Leader:            Aleph
ALL:              Happy are those who honor the Lord,

Leader:            Bet
ALL:              They take pleasure in obeying in God’s commandments!

Leader:            Gimel
ALL:              Their descendants shall be mighty on the earth.

Leader:            Dalet
ALL:              The honest shall be blessed.

Leader:            He
ALL:              Riches and wealth are theirs;

Leader:            Waw
ALL:              and they will prosper forever.

Leader:            Zain
ALL:              They shine like a lamp in the dark.

Leader:            Het
ALL:              They are generous, kind, and fair.

Leader:            Tet
ALL:              All goes well for those who lend generously,

Leader:            Yod
ALL:              and for those who run their businesses honestly.

Leader:            Kaph
ALL:              Good people will never fail.

Leader:            Lamed
ALL:              They will be remembered forever.

Leader:            Mem
ALL:              God’s people are not afraid of bad news.

Leader:            Nun
ALL:              Their faith is strong and they trust in the Lord.

Leader:            Samek
ALL:              They are not worried or afraid.

Leader:            Ain
ALL:              They are certain to see their enemies defeated.

Leader:            Pe
ALL:              Good people give generously to the poor.

Leader:            Zade
ALL:              They are always, always kind.

Leader:            Qoph
ALL:              Other people will respect them.

Leader:            Resh
ALL:              The wicked see this and are angry.

Leader:            Shin
ALL:              They glare in hate and disappear.

Leader:            Taw
ALL:              The wicked will not get what they scheme to get.


1 Corinthians 2:1-12

This is in many ways a continuation of last week’s reading from Paul’s letter.  The subject is the difference between God’s wisdom and the world’s wisdom.  Click on Fourth Sunday in Epiphany for ideas. 

Matthew 5:13-20

To help children follow this three part text, have each part read by a separate reader.  Before each reader reads, the symbol from that section is placed on a central table.  For salt use a salt shaker or a bag of rock salt for the sidewalk (depending on what use of salt you plan to highlight).  For light add a candle or lantern.  For the Law add a large copy of the Bible.  The symbol may be put in place by the reader who then goes to the lectern to read.  Or, another person could carry the item up the central aisle and place it on the table while the reader reads. 

Jesus says, “you are the salt of the earth” and “you are the light of the world.”  These may be the best known object lessons in the New Testament.  Listeners are asked to draw spiritual truths from descriptions of physical realities.  We know that children’s brains are not able to do this.  (For fuller description of this go Background .)  Still, we can begin teaching them what is involved in these metaphors that are used frequently in the church’s life and worship.  We can delineate the qualities of salt and light and describe how we act as salt and light in the world.  At some point during their teen years they will be able to connect those lists more fully.

Salt of the earth  

Salt seasons or adds taste to food.  Imagine French fries or pretzels without salt.
God’s people act like salt when they make life better for people around them.  Kindess and friendly words are good seasoning for life.

Salt can be used to clean things.  Salt can be used to scour burned food out of a frying pan.  Bath salts are gentle cleaners poured into bathwater.
God’s people can help clean things up too.  Many churches pack hygiene kits or disaster clean up kits to send to people who need them.

Salt melts ice.  In  North America in February most children have experience with using salt on sidewalks and roads to melt ice.
God’s people can melt hard hatred, by adding our loving care.   We can refuse to be part of anything that is hurting other people whether it is teasing and name-calling or prejudices that cut groups of  people out.
Light of the world

Some lights are bright and help us see what needs to be seen, e.g. lighthouse, search light.
God’s people often pay attention to people who are ignored and need help, e.g. churches often provide overnight shelter for homeless people.  Also, God’s people often point out unfair situations and work to get them changed. 

Some lights are soft and make us see the beauty of the world, e.g. candles.
God’s people do whatever they can to make the world more loving for everyone. 

Select from these possibilities one characteristic of either salt or light to explore with children. 

If you do light two candles during worship each week and have not explored their meaning recently, do so today.  Click on Second Sunday in Epiphany .

In his comments about fulfilling the Law, Jesus was speaking to adults who were concerned that he was challenging the Torah (their Bible).  He tells these folks to relax, that he doesn’t want to set aside any of it, he simply wants to take it to its intended depths.  This whole debate is of little interest to children at this point in their lives.  So, explore it with the adults and expect that the children will get to it later in their lives or omit this section in order to focus on the salt and light images.