Monday, December 6, 2010

Year A - Fourth Sunday in Epiphany/ Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (January 30, 2011)

Micah 6:1-8

To understand verses 1-5, one must know some generally unfamiliar Old Testament stories.  To grasp verse 6-7, one needs to know about the sacrificial system of Micah’s day – and get past the possibility of human sacrifice.  So, for children the key text is verse 8.  It says simply, what God wants is that you be fair, be kind and walk everyday with God.  Be fair and be kind are easy to understand.  The entry point to explaining the last instruction is to omit the word “humbly” and focus on the importance living every day aware of God and trying to be Jesus’ follower. 

If you are going to explore the problem of the idolatrous disconnect between worship and life, talk about matching what we read, say and pray in worship with what we do and say every day.  Holding the worship activity in one hand and the everyday activity in the other hand, lay out specific examples such as

Singing songs of love (quote a song you have sung today),
then teasing and pestering our brother in the car on the way home from church. 
Talking about being fair,
then tricking your little sister to get most of her gummy bears. 
Telling God in church that we are Jesus’ follower,
then letting a friend talk us into doing something we know is wrong.

Point out that it is easier to sing and talk about being fair and kind and following Jesus than it is to actually be fair and kind and follow Jesus.  Sometimes though just singing and hearing and praying together makes doing it a little easier.

To honor Micah’s format, have one reader read the question in verse 6a and another read the answer in verse 8.  This could be done as a call to worship with a worship leader posing the question and the congregation answering.

The hymn “What Does the Lord Require?” which appears in many hymnals is hard for children to understand.  The Strathdees set the words of the verse to a simple tune with the same title.  It is a refrain that can be sung repeatedly or that can be turned into a round.  If you click on  Strathdee Music: Guilt Free Copying , the Strathdees will grant one time rights to any of their music for $10.  (How wonderful is that!)

Psalm  15

This psalm is almost a parallel of Micah 6:6-8.  Instead of Micah’s three terse phrases about what God wants, the psalmist provides a list of the characteristics God wants to develop and to avoid.  Usually concrete examples are easier for children than abstract concepts.  This is an exception.  Micah’s be fair, be kind, and walk with God every day make much quicker sense and is more memorable.

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

The Corinthians wanted to be "wise" by the standards of their world.  We, even the children, want to look "wise" or "smart" to those around us.  Paul tells the Corinthians and us to forget that.  Instead we are to remember that what looks "wise" to most people in the world is not what looks "wise" to God.  Paul's use of the cross as the ultimate example of the difference in worldly wisdom and God's wisdom is beyond children.  This text serves them best as commentary on the Micah and Matthew readings.  "Being fair, being kind, and walking with God" and some of Jesus beatitudes look very foolish in the eyes of most people, but are wise in God’s eyes.  Even children can see that.  So they appreciate hearing the difference in the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God admitted.  Verse 25 is the key verse for them.

Examples of the “wise” choices children face today include decisions about whether it is “wise” to give some of your birthday money to the food bank, whether it is “wise” to sit with the outsider kid at lunch or on the bus, or whether it is “wise” to give up an afternoon playing on your own to look after your little brother or sister. 

Matthew 5:1-12

Older children often enjoy and follow rather closely sermon series – IF the series is clearly announced to them and very specific “this is where we are” and “this is where we are going” information is provided repeatedly.  So, consider a series on the Sermon on the Mount.  Even assign homework, i.e. rereading each weekday day what was read in worship on Sunday.  Encourage families to put the sayings into their own words and to match them with things that happen during their days.  Providing printed copies of each week’s texts that can be posted on refrigerators or propped up on breakfast tables gives families both easy access to the text and a visual reminder of their assignment.

One way to introduce the Sermon on the Mount is to compare it to an inaugural speech in which the person who is being sworn in as president or governor talks about what things will be like while he or she is in charge.  Jesus is talking about what things are/will be like in God’s world.  It might be titled “The Surprise Sermon” because everything Jesus said was very surprising. 

The first surprise is a set of sayings about who will benefit from Jesus’ rule.  It is a tough text to unpack for adults and even harder to unpack for children.  Popular attempts to turn it into a list of Be Attitudes, i.e. attitudes that Jesus endorses, both miss the point of the text entirely and don’t make a lot of sense as presented, e.g. does Jesus really want me to mourn?  The first word of each saying further complicates things especially for children.  “Blessed” is not a frequently used term among today’s children.  But the most frequent translation “happy” is also confusing.  Most children associate happy with happy feelings and Happy Birthday.  It takes time to explain that word and then to explain its slightly different application in different sayings, i.e. happy are those who mourn and happy are the peacemakers.  It is easier (but not easy) to go straight to Jesus’ intention. 

To explore Jesus’ intention compare who gets the attention and benefits in the world today and who gets the attention and benefits in God’s world.   Below is a children’s version of who benefits in the world today and a very rough translation for children of the Jesus’ list.  Read the first list.  Some children or adults may add other sayings to this list.  Then read the second list.  Point out that Jesus is not giving us a list of nine things to be and do in order to fit into his world.  Instead he is giving us nine hints about how life is different in God’s world.  (Possibility to ponder:  If you must do a children’s time, take the time needed to present these two lists and discuss what Jesus was telling us with the children.  The adults will be listening and learning.  The Sermon can then be shorter because it will build on the foundation you have laid during the children’s time.)

In today’s world…

It’s good for the rich,
         they can buy whatever they want.
It’s good for the strong,
         they can take whatever they want.  They will also make the team.
It’s good for the winners,
         they get all the prizes.
It’s good for the smart,
         they get straight A’s, get to go to college, and get good jobs.
It’s good for the beautiful,
         they will get their pictures in magazines and get to be in movies.
It’s good for the grownups,
         they get to make all the plans.

Jesus says that in his kingdom…

It’s good for those who know they do not know everything. 
         They belong in God’s world.
It’s good for those who are terribly sad. 
         They will be comforted.
It’s good for those who obey.   
         They will be in charge.
It’s good for those who don’t get justice now. 
         They WILL get it.
It’s good for those who forgive and care about others. 
         God forgives and cares about them.
It’s good for those who are pure in heart.  They will see God. 
         (Can someone translate this for kids?)
It’s good for the peacemakers. 
         They will be praised as God’s own children.
It’s good for those who are hurt because they stand up for God’s ways.
         They will be God's heroes and heroines.
It’s even good for you when people come after you because you follow me. 
         You will be rewarded. 

The Beatitudes are effectively read in worship by a group of readers.  The worship leader reads verses 1 and 2 to set the scene.  Nine readers then read one of the beatitudes each. 

If the readers are all from an older children’s class, they have the benefit of preparing together and thinking about what they are reading.

If the readers are individuals of many different ages, their presence suggests that this list is meant for everyone of all ages.

Use The Beatitudes as the base for the congregation’s prayers of intercession.   One prayer leader reads one beatitude to which a second responds with prayers for the marginalized ones described in that Beatitude.  This prayer could be turned into a printed litany with a worship leader reading the sayings and the congregation replying with the prayers.


  1. I would not have connected the beatitudes to the state of the nation, which was closely watched by kids at my house. Thanks for all your insites, your blog is an inspiration to me.

  2. The lectionary group yesterday spent a lot of time on Micah. They convinced me that we do need verses 1-5 as the context for vv 6-8.

    Two ways to help children get into it is to briefly introduce the courtroom setting and then have it read by several readers as follows:

    Reader 1 (Baliff?) verses 1-2
    Reader 2 (God) verses 3-5
    Reader 3 (God's People) verses 6-7
    This could be read by the entire congregation.
    Reader 4 (Judge or Prophet) verse 8

    It would also be possible to take time with the children reminding them of the Exodus briefly, and telling them the wonderful funny story of Balaam and his donkey in Numbers 22 which is refered to here. If you then point to the phrases in Micah that refer to this story and invite children to listen to the reading to see why God is complaining about the people, they will follow with interest.

  3. aaah. . . thank you to for connecting me to your blog. This treatment of the beatitudes will truly inform my children's sermon for the better this week! Blessings--


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