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. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Year C - The 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time/World Communion Sunday (October 3, 2010)

World Communion Sunday

Children are fascinated by the idea of day on which Christians all around the world celebrate Communion.  Given the generally adult oriented texts for this day, World Communion might be the best entry to worship for the children.  Possible ways to invite them into this celebration include:
-          Utilizing music and instruments from many different cultures in worship
-          Including people of many different racial, ethnic background in worship leadership, possibly in native dress
-          Featuring breads from around the world – sourdough, pumpernickel, cornbread, pita, etc.  Children as part of a larger processional may bring a variety of loaves to place in a big basket in front of the communion table.  Or, a variety of types of bread could be used in the sacrament.  An older children’s class can even cut bread into cubes which are stored in the freezer in plastic bags until they are poured into baskets on Sunday morning. 
-          In the internet age, there are greetings from churches around the world posted on line.  Go to for connections and ideas about using the greetings in worship.
-          Hear stories from people who have shared communion with Christians in different parts of the world.
-          Globes, maps, national flags, etc. are all grand additions to this day.  Share your ideas with the rest of us by clicking on comments at the end of this post.

Lamentations 1:1-6, 3:19-26; Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; Psalm 37:1-9 even Psalm 137

Together the Old Testament texts are a sampler of people talking back to God.  These are deeply hurt, terribly sad, and totally angry people, and they are willing to tell God so.  We talk to children often about telling God the happy things, confessing our sins to God, and asking God for help.  But, we also need to give them permission, even encourage them to tell God when they are angry, when life seems unfair, when it looks to them as if God isn’t doing God’s job the way it should be done.  These texts and other stories teach us that God can take such straight talk and even wants it.  Indeed, all these writers seem to work through their outburst to a kind of peace or patience or hope in the middle of their mess.

One way to explore this in either a children’s time or the day’s sermon is to present photos of people in horrible situations, e.g. portraits of children with harelips, pictures of people living in deep poverty, someone in a hospital bed, etc.  Add situations such as “your parents are getting a divorce.”  Explore the feelings of the people in these situations.  Say aloud some of the things they make you want to say to God and some of the questions you’d like to ask God about these situations.  Note that just as it sometimes helps to talk our feelings out with another person, it can also help to talk them out with God.  Sometimes, in the process of explaining just how horrible it is, we find something we could do to make it better, e.g.  telling God how unfair it is for the children to be born with harelips may make you realize that there are ways you could help those children.  Other times, in the process of telling God how bad it is, we remember some of the good things we have too and that makes us feel better.  Or, we remember someone else who has a similar problem and begin to think of ways we can work on the problem together.  And sometimes, it just feels like we’re yelling and God is not listening.  That is the hardest time.  But even then lots of people tell us that if you keep talking to God about it, eventually, sometimes after a very long time, it helps.  No one can say exactly how or why.  But it helps.  So, today I’m telling you, when you are really, really angry and hurt and sad, tell God all about it. 

Introduce the angriest, meanest, maddest verse in the Bible – Psalm 137:8b-9.  Explain that invaders had conquered the psalmist’s city, burned all the buildings in it, killed most of the people, and taken the rest (including the poet) back to their country as prisoners.  Note that the psalmist had every right to be very angry and sad.  Then read the verses.  React with your face and voice to show how offensive this wish is.  State that it is rather surprising it is in the Bible.  Then, with a change of face and tone, note that you are actually rather glad this verse is there because it reminds us of something that we don’t like to talk about.  That something is that when we are mad and feel mean, no matter how bad it gets, we can tell God all about it.  God can take it.  God can even help us deal with it. 

2 Timothy 1:1-14

Tell the back story about Timothy with the focus on his faith family.  Timothy’s mother and grandmother told him stories and led him to the Christian community.  There he met Paul who claims to love him like a son and who ordained him to be a minister.  Identify some of the people in your faith family and encourage worshipers of all ages to identify the members of their faith families.  This is great chance to explore the importance families and friends have in shaping each other’s faith. Encourage households to continue this discussion at home.

Explore Paul’s encouragement to Timothy to have more self-discipline.  Children long to be more and more “my own boss.”  Usually they mean that they want to be able to do what they want to do.  For Paul however, being your own boss means being able to control your actions and emotions, being able to not go along with the crowd, and being able to keep your own rules.  Paul encourages Timothy to have more self-discipline, he says that Timothy knows what he believes about God and Jesus and he knows what rules he wants to live by.  What he needs to work on is not letting other people lead him astray.  He, not other people, is to be his own boss.  He is to discipline himself. 

Luke 17: 5-10

The apparent starting place here is the mustard seed and the message that you can do big things if you have only a little faith.  Unfortunately, the verse is linked to either verses 1-5 about the challenge of forgiving or verses 7-10 with deal with accepting your role as a slave.  There are much easier texts with which to explore forgiveness with children (and these verses are not the text of the day anyway).  And, to understand verses 7-10 one must explore the intricacies of slavery as practiced in the first century, deduce from that the point that Jesus was making, and then apply that point to the life of children today.  Way too big a task for the children!  So, work this text with the adults.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Year A - Epiphany (Sunday, January 2 or Thursday January 6, 2011

These texts are set for January 6 which in 2011 is on a Thursday.  The ideas here could be incorporated into weeknight celebration that includes worship in a freer form than often followed on Sunday morning.  Also, they could be used on Sunday, January 2, by congregations who do not have a weeknight celebration but do not want to ignore Epiphany. 

Isaiah 60: 1-6
Arise, Shine!

Isaiah calls the people of Jerusalem to rise and shine because God’s glory is upon them for all the world to see.  Children heading back to school this week after soaking up God’s Christmas love and glory are ready to hear the call to shine also.  Verse 1 is their key verse.   Actually “Arise, shine!” is all they need. 

One way to explain the symbol of light is to present children with several symbols, e.g. a national flag, a symbol for a sports team, and a cross.  As you present each ornament ask what it stands for and what it makes them think about.  Then tell them that the symbol for God is light.  Since we can’t make a picture of light, we use things that make light like a star, sun, candle, lamp.  Display a treetop star ornament that goes at the top of the Christmas or Chrismon tree and note its meaning.  Recall Christmas candle lighting services and note that we lit those candles to remind ourselves that God the light is with us.  Then, move to the discussion below of the candles in the worship center.  Or, name and explore other light symbols pondering how each reminds us of God.  Encourage the children (and other worshipers) to watch for light symbols scattered through the scriptures we read, the songs we sings and the prayers we pray today.

It is a good day to point out and explain your congregation’s use of candles during worship.  Many congregations light two candles on a central table.  The explanation that I grew up with was that one  candle was “God is the light of the world” (John 8:12) and the other “we are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:13)  I’m sure there are other explanations.  Share any you know in the comments.  An acolyte may light a taper from one of the candles before snuffing both at the conclusion of the service.  The acolyte often walks down the central aisle and out the back door to call worshipers to follow the light of God out into the world. 

Speaking of acolytes:  Lighting candles as a worship leader is a job that older children relish.  Including children in this simple act, training them how to do it and what it means, possibly even robing them to do it, tells them that they are a real part of the worshiping community.  Children as young as eight or nine can take this role successfully if the candles are short enough for them to reach easily.  In some churches serving as acolyte is an activity children sign up for just as they do for choir.  In others, the responsibility is tied to a particular church school class for the year. 

“Arise, shine” is not about enjoying light.  It is a command to reflect and spread light.  Reread this several times pondering the difference in basking in light and shining out in the darkness.  Explore ways we can shine listing ways children can shine God’s love out at school, in the locker room, even in the back seat of a car as well as ways youth and adults can shine.  To encourage worshipers to shine, give each one a star sticker (glittery ones are the best!).  During a children’s message, stick a star on each child’s hand or forehead and say to each one, “Arise, shine.”  Or, pass baskets of star stickers to the entire congregations, instructing individuals to stick a star on the person at their side saying to them “arise, shine.”

Light hymns children can sing at least parts of with understanding:
“I Want To Walk As A Child of Light”
“Let There Be Light” with lots of short phrases of hope for the coming year
“This Little Light of Mine” – a spiritual about our ability to be light as well as enjoy light

Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
A prayer for the king

There have been several opportunities to pray for civic leaders in the last few months.  With the wealth of other themes that speak to children clearly in today’s worship, I wouldn’t work on developing this one for the children.

Eph. 3:1-12
Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles

Demonstrate Paul’s mystery that God loves people all around the world by including people of as many different racial and ethnic backgrounds in worship leadership.  Some might even come in native dress or speak/read in native languages.  Include music from many different cultures.

Pray your way around the world.  Display a globe.  Explain that remembering the mystery Paul discovered, i.e. that God loves all people all over the world, your prayers today will move around the globe.  You might use the continents as your outline, offering prayers for each continent followed by time for worshipers to add their own voiced or silent prayers for that continent. 

Present several pairs of portraits of people from different parts of the world asking which of these does God love.  The answer of course is that God loves both of them.  See the full description of this and a suggested resource in the Year C – 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time under the ideas for 1 Timothy.

Matthew 2:1-12
The visit of the magi

Tell the story of the three kings in your own words moving the kings from the crèche around the sanctuary as you talk.  Actually you will need three assistants, one to carry each king and perhaps a fourth to carry a star on a pole.  Start in a far corner of the sanctuary telling about the beginning of the trip.  Stop in another corner to tell about the visit to the palace, then come to the mother and child figures.  (These figures might be in a prominent spot at the front of the sanctuary or in a nook off to a side.)  Finally tell about the warning not to return to Herod and accompany the king figures back to their homes following another path around the sanctuary.  (After the story you might want to return the kings to their positions around the mother and child figures.)

Do a hymn study of “We three Kings of Orient, Are.”   Ask all worshippers to open their hymnals to the carol.  Walk through the verses explaining the significance of the three gifts.  Then sing the carol together.  This could be the outline for the day’s sermon or a fairly brief introduction to the hymn.
Interesting sidebar for children:  the carol is generally known as “We 3 Kings of Orient Are.”  Most children assume that Orient Are is the place the kings come from.  The truer to the meaning grammar for this verse would be:
We three kings of (the) Orient are bearing gifts.
We traverse afar, (over) field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star.

Chalking the Door is an Epiphany ritual that can be done at church then repeated in the congregation’s homes.  It is basically a house blessing.  Using chalk, members of the congregation or household write on the door frame the year’s date and the letters C, B, and M (the initials of the three wise men).  Prayer is then offered asking that the door welcome many visitors during the coming year and that all who come through the doorway be blessed.  Write on the church doors during the worship service with the focus on the congregation’s home.  Then encourage households to repeat it in their own homes.  Print a simple blessing for use at both church and home in the order of worship and give out small pieces of white chalk for home use.  Below is a sample blessing.

God of doors and homes, bless this home this year and every year.
Bless all who come and go through this door, both those who live here and those who visit.
May all who enter through this door come in peace and bring joy.
May all who come to this door find welcome and love.
May the love and joy in this home overflow and spread into the community and the world.

The world is full of stories about people who were invited to go with the three kings, but declined for a variety of reasons all related to being too busy. In most this person later then decides to follow the kings, but is always too late and spends the rest of his/her life looking for the child.  The message in all the stories is to stay alert for signs of God at work in the world (like a star in the sky or an invitation) and to be ready to drop everything to respond.  The Other Wise Man, by Henry Van Dyke, is a rather complicated long American version of this tale.   Two of the best of these stories for children are:

The Legend of Old Befana, by Tomie dePaola.  In this well loved European folk tale, an Italian grandmother meets the kings, then spends the rest of her life leaving cakes and cookies for children during the night on January 6.  It could be used at least two ways in worship.
-          Read the first 13 pages ending with Befana telling the 3 kings that she has seen the star which kept her awake at night and that she had work to do. (approximately four minutes to read aloud)  Stop there to ponder the possibility of missing out on something wonderful because you were stuck in a grumpy rut.  Note that the new year has many possibilities.  Encourage worshipers to stay open enough to give them a chance. 
-          Or, instead of stopping read one more page.  Then, stop.  Ask listeners what Befana might have done next.  Read or tell what happened in the next 13 pages (approximately three minutes to read the rest of the book).  Compare Befana’s (grumpy) face in the pictures of her sweeping with her (happy) face on the last page.  Ponder what made the difference.

Baboushka, retold by Arthur Scholey, is a Russian folktale about another busy grandmother who meets the three kings and is invited to join them.  At first she declines with lots of busy excuses, then decides to follow, but never catches up.  An angel points out that the shepherds left immediately after the angels sang to them.  The kings followed the star as soon as it appeared.  She is simply too late.  She keeps searching, carrying with her toys that she leaves with sleeping children in case they are the Christ child.  (About ten minutes to read aloud)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Year C - 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time (September 26, 2010)

Yesterday at the lectionary study group I attend, five of six preachers were planning to preach on the Isaiah text and all were thinking about the housing foreclosure crisis.  If you are joinging them, remember that children are as seriously affected by foreclosure as their parents.  They sense the stress in their parents.  They are embarassed in front of classmates, who might not correctly understand what is going on.  They are often crowded in sharing space with cousins or friends or even landing in a shelter.  They are as much in need of God's protection and comfort and of understanding from their church friends of all ages as their parents are.

Jeremiah  32: 1-3a, 6-15
Jeremiah buys land just before Babylon invades

Most children know very little about the details of buying and selling of property and even less about the problems of impending conquest by foreigners.  It is hard for them to get from the details to any meaningful-to-them message.  So, for children, simply hearing the story and learning a little of what it meant to people in Jeremiah’s day is enough.  To do that, try one or more of the following:

Introduce the props before reading the story.  Show two paper deeds (one to file publicly and one to keep for your own records), a check, and a glass jar big enough to hold the check.  Explain what a deed is and why there are two of them.  Compare today’s buyer writing a check to give the seller of the property with Jeremiah’s weighing out gold coins.  Then, drop one of the deeds into the jar and put the lid on.  Note that Jeremiah used a clay jar because that is what he had.  But that either glass or clay the jar makes sure the deed will last a lot longer than just putting it in a drawer.  Then, read the story encouraging your listeners to listen for the props.  (This could be a discussion addressed to the whole congregation or a children’s time.)  If possible display these props for the remainder of the service.


Deed of Sale
I, Hanamel, sell my property in Anathtoth
to my cousin Jeremiah on this day.
Seller’s signature:__Hanamel_____
Buyer’s signature:___Jeremiah_____


Have 3 people act out the story as it is read.  The king (maybe wearing a crown) takes his place off to one side (verse 1).  A big man wearing a fierce expression and either carrying a weapon or with his arms folded menacingly across his chest takes his place in the center aisle (verse 2a).  And, Jeremiah stands beside a table (verse 2b).  Hanamel enters on verse 8 and he and Jeremiah act out the sale.  For added impact Jeremiah might speak verses 14-15 from memory.  If a response to scripture is your practice, all actors and the reader then say together, “The Word of the Lord” to which the congregation replies “Thanks be to God.”

The closest I can come to putting Jeremiah’s message into terms that are meaningful for today’s children goes something like this:  Even when you get an awful teacher who doesn’t like you, even when you feel like you don’t have a single friend, even when you don’t make the team or get the part you wanted in the play, even when you feel ugly and dumb and hopeless, remember that is not the last word.  God is looking further ahead than you are.  God is planning for you.  You’ve got to wait and be patient and trust God.   It isn’t easy.

Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
Assurance of God’s Protection

All the unfamiliar words (snare, fowler, pestilence, pinions, buckler, refuge) make this a hard psalm for children.  Several familiar hymns communicate the message better.

“Our God, Our Help in Ages Past” is based on Psalm 90 instead of 91, but carries the same message.  Before singing it point everyone to verse 3 and note that God takes a much longer view of our lives than we do.  “A thousand ages are like an evening.”

“A Mighty Fortress is Our God” is also based on another psalm (Psalm 46), but carries the message of this one too.  The words are difficult for young readers, but the music communicates brave confidence and most congregations sing it with that feeling.  Before singing it, tell the story of its writing.  Powerful people wanted Martin Luther dead.  So, his friends were hiding him in a castle.  He and his friends were very scared.  While he was there he wrote this song to help his friends and himself remember that God was with them.

“God Be With You ‘Til We Meet Again” sung at the conclusion of this service is an opportunity for a little worship education about benedictions.  Explain to worshipers that the benediction (the very last words in every worship service) is a reminder that we can trust God to be with us no matter what comes our way.  Put the words of the verses into your own words, something like:

May God guide you.
Trust God to care for you like a shepherd.
May God protect you.
May God provide you physical and spiritual food.
When life gets tough may God’s arms be wrapped around you.
May God’s love be your motto and may God be with you at your death.

Encourage children to at least sing the repeated beginnings and endings of each verse.  Even older elementary readers will be able to read the short words of the verses.

1 Timothy 6:6-19

Before reading this text, tell the back story.  Paul is writing to encourage Timothy, a young minister who is having a hard time.

Paul’s message to Timothy is that he needs to remember what is important.  He needs to pay attention to what is important and ignore what isn’t that important.  One way to help children identify the difference between the important and the not important is to name some of the things that we feel we gotta have, gotta do, gotta be only to learn after a bit that they were really not that important.   Display an article that you thought you gotta have at some point, but quickly discovered wasn’t worth much  (clothes or shoes that once seemed essential, a video game or gadget that I had to have, etc.)  Tell about wanting it, going to great effort to get it, and finding it wasn’t that cool.  Or, tell about some group you thought you had to be part of or some award you thought you had to win, but did not.  

Luke 16:19-31
The Rich Man and Lazarus

The rich man’s sin was that he ignored Lazarus and his needs.  Lazarus was right there in front of him, hungry, sick, plagued by dogs and the rich man did nothing to help him.  Psychologists tell us that infants perceive only themselves and their needs.  They see themselves not as the center of the universe, but as the whole universe.  Everything around them exists only in relation to them.  If all goes well, children grow beyond this throughout their childhood until the see themselves as one among many and as people who are called to help other people.  Our culture complicates the process because it allows us, even encourages us, to remain oblivious to certain others.  The challenge in this text is for listeners of all ages to identify some of the people around them who are regularly ignored, even treated as if they are invisible, and then to reach out to them.  For children these ignored ones include the outcast kids at school, at times even members of their own household, people of all ages in their neighborhood who are looked down on, people in certain racial, ethnic, or religious groups, etc.

To help children (and other worshipers) follow this rather long story, prepare three male readers to read it while moving around the front of the sanctuary to follow the movement in the story.  Place their scripts inside black choir binders for esthetics.  Below is a script.


Reader One (from center): There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.

Reader Two (below and off to one side):  And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.  The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. (Move to opposite side and up a step or two if possible.)

Reader One:  The rich man also died and was buried.  (Move to side opposite Reader Two and down a step or two if possible.)  In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.  (Reader Three come to stand by Reader Two.)  He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’

Reader Three: Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.  Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’

Reader Two:   ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’

Reader Three: ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’

Reader One: ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

Reader Three:  ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

All:  The Word of the Lord!
                                                                       New Revised Standard Version

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Year A - The Second Sunday of Christmas (January 2, 2011)

This week begins the new year with an embarrassment of riches.  One could work with the New Years Eve/Day texts, the Second Sunday after Christmas Texts, or the Epiphany texts.  This year I’ll provide ideas about the second two.

The texts for the Second Sunday of Christmas share a common theme of praise and thanksgiving.  Jeremiah offers gratitude for the return of the Exiles even though he acknowledges that not all who left are alive to return and the experience of exile was bitter.  Psalm 147 calls on the citizens of Jerusalem to praise God for all the blessings of living in that city.  The writers of Ephesians and John list the blessings that are bestowed on us through Christ.  Together they offer an opportunity to look back over 2010 (which was about as mixed a blessing as the return of the Exiles) with both honesty and gratitude and to look ahead to the new year with hope that God’s larger good vision will prevail in spite of whatever immediate problems or joys come our way in 2011.

Because the New Testament texts are filled with big abstract words (adoption, redemption, the Word) children will not catch the theme directly from them.  The Old Testament readings are only a little easier to follow.  So, children will count on getting the message from the liturgy and preaching directed at them.

Choose hymns of praise and thanksgiving that use simple vocabulary and are familiar.  Good possibilities are
“Now Thank We All Our God,”
“All Things Bright and Beautiful,” and
“God Who Stretched the Spangled Heavens.”  
If communion will be celebrated consider “I Come with Joy.” 

The Secret of Saying Thanks, by Douglas Wood, is a beautifully illustrated picture book.  It begins “Perhaps you’d like to know a secret…” and concludes
“The heart that gives thanks is a happy one, for 
      we cannot feel thankful and unhappy at the same time. 
The more we say thanks,
      the more we find to be thankful for. 
And the more we find to be thankful for,
      the happier we become.
We don’t give thanks because we’re happy,
We are happy because we give thanks.”
The middle of the book is a collection of moments in which one finds oneself thankful for a variety of things.

With a small group of children who can easily see the pictures as you read, and the willingness to believe the adults will enjoy and benefit from hearing it also(which they will), the whole book can be read during a children’s time.  It could also be read during the sermon.  (This book would be a welcome addition to any children’s library at any church.)

Another way to explore this theme with children is to challenge them to write or draw thank you notes to God.  Prepare by talking together about blessings.  Identify some from the texts, from Christmas, and from life in general.  If you introduce this project during a children’s time or an announcement at the beginning of the service, children can work on their drawings/notes during the service and have them ready to drop into the offering plate as they are passed.  Below is a letter page to copy for their notes.


Dear God,

Thank you for








Ephesians 1:3-14
The spiritual blessings we receive in Christ

This is seriously complex theological language.  The spiritual blessings this writer says that we gain through Jesus include adoption, redemption, and an inheritance in Christ.  If you must wade into this, remember that for children adoption means God chose us for God’s very own.  Redemption is better understood by children as forgiveness.  And, I think understanding of inheritance will have to wait until they are old enough to have understanding of the effect having an inheritance to come in the future has on life now and make the abstract theological connection.  If any of you have ideas about how to explore this text more fully with children, I’ll be interested to hear it.

John 1: (1-9) 10-18
The Word became flesh and lived among us….

If you want to stick with Christmas and explore the incarnation using John’s prologue, check out the notes about children and the incarnation on the Fourth Sunday of Advent - Year A - Fourth Sunday of Advent.  That post also includes directions for walking through “Once in Royal David’s City” with children.