Friday, June 3, 2011

Year A - Proper 9, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 3, 2011)

From The Family Story Bible,
by Ralph Milton
Used by permission.
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45:10-17 or
Song of Solomon 2:8-13

The truth is that few American preachers will be able to pass up the other Old Testament readings on the Fourth of July weekend.  So, Rebecca’s story is likely to be untold here.  This is unfortunate on two counts.  First, the remaining weeks in July continue this story.  Second, it provides a chance to celebrate the commitment made in marriage.  If you do use it…

> Before reading the story, note that camels often go as much as five days without water.  When they get to a water source they jostle each other intently and drink gallons of water at a time.  Urge worshipers to listen for 10 thirsty camels and imagine having to provide water for them. 
FYI, I searched for a number of gallons of water a thirsty camel could drink and found many different answers.  Save yourself the trouble of the search by going with the general “lots” and letting imaginations take it from there.

> In the sermon explore Rebecca’s courage in deciding to marry this unseen man and Isaac’s decision to love Rebecca when she arrived.  Children, especially girls, will be interested in this arranged marriage.  It provides an opportunity to emphasize the commitment that is made in either arranged or “love” marriages and the love that grows out of sticking together and taking care of each other through good and bad times. 

> Consider offering couples the opportunity to renew marriage vows during the worship service.  Children benefit as much from this recognition of their parent’s marriage as the parents do.  (If you do this, announce it in advance so that individuals or families for whom it would be painful can choose to be absent.)


Zechariah 9:9-12      HUMBLE

This description of God’s king or God’s leader emphasizes that the leader is humble.  It is probably easiest to tackle somewhat out of the biblical verse order:

Start talking about what the leader rides.  Describe the big limousine or SUV motorcades in which leaders often ride today.  Recall leaders who rode in on big, spirited horses or in chariots pulled by a team of horses.  (For Americans, there are several paintings and statues of George Washington on a large white horse.)  Then read what God’s leader rides in verse 9. 

Next read what the Lord will do in verse 10 and put into your own words what the prophet is saying that leaders and governments should be doing.

Finally, display the word HUMBLE written in large letters on a poster.  Share dictionary definitions, “modest, showing respect for and deference to other people” and fill in what the prophet is telling us about God’s leaders.

The TEV offers an especially clear translation of these verses.

Rejoice, rejoice, people of Zion!
Shout for joy, you people of Jerusalem!
Look, your king is coming to you!
He comes triumphant and victorious,
but humble and riding on a donkey—on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
The Lord says,
“I will remove the war chariots from Israel
and take the horses from Jerusalem;
the bows used in battle will be destroyed.
Your king will make peace among the nations;
he will rule from sea to sea,
from the River Euphrates to the ends of the earth.”


Psalm 145:8-14  or Psalm 72(UMC Lectionary)

O Display a globe and point out that the entire world is God’s kingdom.  Note that God does not love any one nation more or less than any other.  Use names of specific nations, e.g. God loves the United States and Iran.  Then read Psalm 145:8-14.

O The United Methodist Lectionary suggests using Psalm 72 which is a prayer for the king.  One way to use this is to invite people to name local, state and national leaders for whom the church can pray.  Then, read the psalm or sections of it, substituting “leaders” for “king” and plural pronouns for singular ones, e.g.

Give our leaders your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to them.
May they judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.

                Based on the New Revised Standard Version


Romans 7:15-25a

The bottom line of this text is that it is hard to be good!  It hard for every person at every age of life!  Even when we want to be good, it is not easy to do what we know we should. 

O The last film of the Harry Potter saga comes out in mid July.  Many older children are looking forward to it, even rereading the books on which it will be based.  Harry might scratch his head a bit over Paul’s long complex sentences, but once he figured out what Paul was saying, he would agree with him.  Both Paul and Harry knew that there is strong evil in the world and that we must stand up to it.  The evil in Harry’s world takes the forms of monster animals and death-eaters.  The evil in Paul’s world and ours takes the form of temptations to grab what we want even when it hurts others.  It was hard for Harry to stand up to the evils in his world and it is hard for us to stand up to the evil we find in our world.  Part of the power of the Potter books is their call to children to stand up against evil on a local and cosmic scale.  (Go to Harry Potter and the July Worship Planner for more.)

O Paul is speaking about both personal and corporate sin.  On the Fourth of July weekend in America but also in other countries, this text challenges us to think about national sins. 

O To introduce the fact that groups as well as individuals can sin, explore the production of most of our clothes.  Get worshipers to check tags at the back neckline of each other’s shirts or dresses to see where they were made.  Invite people to call out the names of countries.  (Or, bring several items of clothing and read the labels to the congregation.)  Point out that many of these countries do not have strong laws to protect workers.  Men, women, and children work in unsafe, uncomfortable places to earn very little money.  It is not fair and we know it.  Still, it’s the only way most of us can get clothes. (Have fun listing all we would have to do to sew, design, weave fabric, make buttons and zippers, etc.)  We are caught up in sinful business.  You may want to list some ways people can work against this evil by writing letters or giving money to organizations that are working for fairer laws.  Or, you may simply want to use this as an example of corporate sin in which we all get implicated.

This is obviously not a children’s time.  Children will not understand it completely.  But, their attention will be caught and they may hear that sin is corporate as well as personal.  For most children that will be a new idea.

If you talk about the sinfulness in our clothes, include in the church’s prayers the people who make our clothes in unfair conditions and people who work to improve their situations.

O Make the prayer of confession a confession of national sins.  It might be a responsive prayer with the response, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”  Some of the petitions will likely be beyond children’s understanding, but the first should make sense even to them, e.g. “As a country we sometimes use our great strength to get our own way rather than to create peace for all people.”  Before praying this prayer, point out that everyone of us has sin to tell God about.  But, every group we are part of also has sin to confess to God.  Describe a gang that bullies people as a group that needs to confess.  Then, point out that even “good groups” like our church also need to confess.  Our nation does to.  Suggest that thinking about ways we are not the kind of country God would like us to be is a very brave, patriotic thing to do on Fourth of July weekend. 

O After any of these discussions reread verse 25a, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” and note that without Jesus’ forgiveness we’d be in deep trouble.


Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Explain what a yoke is using this illustration and one of yoked oxen.  Then, bring out all your worship stoles.  Explain that they are yokes.  You wear them to remind you of your job to lead God’s people in worship.  Take time to talk about the significance of symbols on some of them.  Tell the stories about any that are important to you because of when you got them.  If the choir wear stoles with their robes, note the similarities and differences in yours and theirs.  (This opens up Jesus’ point about a yoke that is fitted to us and our gifts.) 

Before this service, invite worshipers to bring symbols of their work that might be identified as yokes.  Identify all these as yokes and hear brief stories about how they were gotten and what they mean to the people who use them.  Examples, a doctor’s white coat or surgical scrubs, a license for a profession, the briefcase many professionals use to carry their papers or computer, etc.

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