Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Year A - Proper 15, 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 14, 2011)

Genesis 45:1-15

u For children this story is partly about Joseph forgiving his brothers and partly about Joseph refusing to take revenge on his brothers.  They easily understand that Joseph could use his position in Egypt to “get even” with them in a very big way.  They have a harder time identifying why Joseph did not.  Younger children can only conclude that Joseph was a good guy and did the right thing.  When it is clearly explained, older children can begin to understand that Joseph was able forgive his brothers because he had a larger vision.  He knew that God had sent him to Egypt and arranged his rise to power in order to save the whole family – and a lot of other people – from starving during a famine.  He was OK with that. 

Most children do well to see in this story the possibility of refusing to take revenge on someone who has wronged you.  Asking them to apply it to situations in their own lives is asking a lot.  We may serve them best when we tell the story in a memorable way, talk with admiration about what Joseph did, and let the children live with the story.

u This week’s text jumps over a lot of the story of Joseph.  We never hear about Potiphar’s house, dreams interpreted in prison, or even the dreams of pharaoh and Joseph’s rise to power.   That leaves worship planners with several possibilities.

Briefly recall Joseph’s sale into slavery and note that it is now years later and Joseph has risen to great power in Egypt.  There is a huge famine and Joseph’s brothers have come to Egypt in search of food.  They do not recognize the man overseeing food distribution as their brother Joseph.  Then read Genesis 45:1-15.

illustration of Pharaoh's Dreams
from The Family Story Bible,
used with permission

Fill in the gap by reading to the children and whole congregation from a children’s Bible version.   The Family Story Bible, by Ralph Milton, “Joseph Helps Pharaoh”, p.66 tells the story of Joseph as he goes down into Egypt, ends up in prison, interprets pharaoh’s dreams, and is appointed to oversee food collection.    It ends with the famine coming.  It can be read in about 4 minutes.

If you use projections, fill in the gaps with scenes from Joseph, King of Dreams, an animated DVD.

u This story presents an opportunity to highlight both the congregation’s prayers for forgiveness and “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” from the Lord’s Prayer.

Save the prayers of confession until after a sermon exploring forgiveness.  Or, repeat the ones that were prayed at the beginning of the service after the sermon.  In either case, review with worshipers the words of the prayer and/or the sequence of the confession and assurance of pardon.

Create a responsive prayer of confession in which the congregation’s response is “forgive us…as we forgive …”.  

If the children will return to school this week, identify things people might want to confess to God about their summer so that they go back to school with a clean slate.  Some possibilities include problems between friends, things they wish they had not done, words they know they should not have said, etc.  The pardon needs to include both the promise that God was with us all summer, is proud of the good things we did, and forgives us for all the times we messed up and the promise that God will be with us as we return to school, will be proud of us when we do well, and will love us and forgive us when we mess up there.  With these promises children can go back to school in peace.   (This could be a children’s time or could part of or the total of the congregation’s confession this week.  The adults will quickly adapt the prayers and pardons to their own summers and the coming autumn.)

Psalm 133

u Pour a little good smelling (but not too flowery for the sake of the boys) lotion on each child’s hands.  While they rub it in explain the biblical custom of pouring good smelling oil not only on hands, but over their heads.  Laugh about how yucky that sounds to us.  Then read Psalm 133.

u After pointing out the two pleasures listed in the psalm, challenge worshipers of all ages to think of other examples of pleasure that are as good as being happy together with people you love.  Possibilities:
It is like warming yourself by a crackling campfire (Southern hemisphere in August)
It is like splashing in a cool pool on a hot day (Northern hemisphere in August)

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

u Children won’t follow the abstract language of this passage.  But they do understand its insistence that no one is left to be an “outsider” in God’s world.  It is up to the worship leaders to restate the message to children and to add specific examples that illustrate it to children.

u After discussing people who are often left out at school, in the community and in the world, invite worshipers of all ages to write or draw on slips of paper people who are outsiders and are hard for them to get along with.  Collect the slips in “prayer baskets” (same as offering baskets) that are then placed on the central table.  A worship leader then voices a prayer stating concern for all the people who are named in the baskets and asking for the strength to reach out to these people where we meet them.

Psalm 67

This is another psalm that lends itself to responsive reading.  Before reading it,  practice the congregation’s response so young readers can join in.


Psalm 67

Leader:     May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known upon earth,
your saving power among all nations.

People:    Let the peoples praise you, O God;
                    let all the peoples praise you.

Leader:     Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
                    for you judge the peoples with equity
                    and guide the nations upon earth.

People:    Let the peoples praise you, O God;
                    let all the peoples praise you.

Leader:     The earth has yielded its increase;
                    God, our God, has blessed us.
                    May God continue to bless us;
                    let all the ends of the earth revere him.

People:    Let the peoples praise you, O God;
                    let all the peoples praise you.

                      (Based on New Revised Standard Version)


Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

u Fortunately, Paul’s problem is not a problem for most children today.  So, this text is of little significance to them.

u If you do address this issue, The Christmas Menorahs, by Janice Cohn, D.S.W., is a children’s account of the true story in which the children of Billings Montana rise up to stood with the community’s Jewish families against a hate group that was throwing rocks through the windows of Jewish homes displaying menorahs.  It is too long to read in worship, but could be well used as a sermon illustration or told by a worship leader in his or her own words.  It may be available in your public library.

Matthew 15: (1-20), 21-28

u Most children are only vaguely interested in old Jewish laws and what you eat and how you eat it.  But, they sit up at take notice of Jesus’ insistence that what comes out of our mouths defiles us or makes us dirty.  They need help naming the things that come out of our mouths – like lies, name-calling, cussing, gossip, hurtful putdowns, tattling, arguments (did so, did not)…

u After exploring some the things that come out of our mouths and defile us, sing at least the verse of “Take My Life and Let it Be” that dedicates our mouths to God.  If you sing the entire hymn, point out the relevant verse and read the words aloud before the congregation sings them.
Take my voice and let me sing always, only, for my King. 
Take my lips and let them be Filled with messages from Thee,

u In a service focused on what comes out of our mouths, anoint the lips of the children with good tasting oil saying “May the words of this mouth be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.”  This could be done during a children’s time or could be offered to the whole congregation.  (OK this is a little way out, but it might make a big impression on children.)

u The story about Jesus’ conversation with the Gentile woman who wanted him to heal her daughter is offensive to children for the same reason it offends adults.  Unfortunately, all the adult attempts to make sense of it are difficult for children to follow.  I really have no idea how to unpack this story honestly and meaningfully with children.  I hope maybe one of you does and can share it in comments.  I am all ears.

For more ideas about noticing the return to school in worship go to Back To School!!


  1. The only way I have found to make sense of this gospel with children is to highlight the change in Jesus from the beginning to the end of the story. I have sometimes used Dr. Seuss' "Sneeches" story as a children's message with this gospel.

  2. Now there's an idea! For those of you unfamiliar with "The Sneetches" by Dr. Seuss, it is the story of two kind of sneetches the star-bellied and plain-bellied. It is about the pointless cost of prejudice. Find it in most public libraries.

  3. Did Jesus really change his mind? Well, okay, but only because he himself was changed--became less than a dog for us on the cross, died for all of our prejudices and other sins. Seen in isolation and out of context, this story is indeed problematic. Seen in the entire biblical context, it's same 'ol same ol'-- God barking up the right Tree, if you would!--leaving us to never be the same. Dogs all, thank God that he is a dog lover!

  4. I agree, this story is difficult to deal with at any age. I wonder if it shows the 'fully human' side of Jesus and he had bad day? :-) That also seems trite! I think read in conjunction with the Isaiah and Romans text we can hear the message that truly no one is an outsider in the gospel and ultimately grace wins.

  5. Love The Christmas Menorahs' idea but I will probably save it until Sunday 9/11.

  6. A mother seeking healing for her child,
    a healer jostled into rendering aid,
    a God who joins the three together,
    and sends the story down the ages...

    I'm glad we have the story, actually
    (even if it is hard to "precious moment" it!)

    I'm glad to discover a blog by the author of "Forbid Them Not" too, whose books I've used fifteen years now! Thank you.

  7. I love your first three suggestions about the gospel lesson. I searched up every other idea I could find, but nothing clicked until I read your suggestions about talking about that which defiles coming from the mouth and how we can pray that our words be acceptable to God and filled with God's messages. Thanks for the inspiration (and I'm sidestepping the Canaanite woman in my children's sermon completely!).

  8. For my children's message, i had the children hold hands and make a circle to pray. But we excluded one child and had him stand outside our circle. (I prepared him in advance! :)) This was an effective way to help kids "feel" what it is like to be on the outside and how Christ pulls us all into the circle.


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