Thursday, August 25, 2011

Year A - Proper 19, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Sunday, September 11, 2011)

In the USA this day is the Tenth Anniversary of the 9-11 attacks.  Most adults and teenagers can and will remember where they were and will ponder where we are now as a result of the events of that day.  But for children (unless a family member or much discussed friend died in the attacks), it is history.  Children younger than 13 have no memories of the day.  Indeed most of them were not alive then.  They do not know what life was like before then.  All they know is that it is dreadfully important to the adults.  We serve them best when we address themes related to our response to the attacks even ten years later.  Today’s texts offer two key themes – forgiving others and diversity.

God’s Dream, a children’s picture book by Desmond Tutu, if filled with sweet generalities that are rather hard for children to follow, but its message that God favors diversity, forgives us and wants us to forgive each other is a great restatement of today’s texts and especially fitting on 9-11.  If I were to use it, I would introduce it by telling briefly about Tutu’s leadership on the Truth and Reconciliation Committee which refused to take revenge on those who had hurt black people during apartheid.  I’d turn to the rainbow on the last page and explain the term “rainbow nation” which Tutu coined to describe the new post-apartheid South Africa.  Then, I’d read the entire book.  It reads aloud in 3 or 4 minutes.  This is one time I’d invite the children forward and show them the pictures as I read from the big 10”x12” picture book.  (It is also available in several smaller sizes.)  The pictures interpret the words for the children.  The adults will be OK without seeing them. 

Exodus 14:19-31

F Go to to find directions for telling the story of crossing the sea with simple sound effects. 

F Add to the Moses display a blue streamer or wide ribbon or cloth cut in half to represent the divided sea.  Make the sea wide enough to look different from the thin ribbon of water that will come out of the rock later.  Pick up the walking stick from the display and use it to tell the story of crossing the sea then lay it in the divide of your sea. 

Psalm 114

F Psalm 114 assumes readers have fairly detailed knowledge of the whole trip through the wilderness as well as of the departure from Egypt.  Most children (and many older worshipers) do not.  So, I would celebrate the crossing of the sea with the songs of Moses and/or Miriam in Exodus.

Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21

F Several Lutheran commentators I read referred to a children’s camp song sung to the tune of “Louie, Louie,”  as in “Pharaoh, Pharaoh…”  I do not know it, but they insist that it really captures the spirit of the people dancing on the far side of the sea and suggest that it is appropriate for worship on this day.  So, if you and your children know it, consider singing it perhaps with tambourine and rhythm instrument accompaniment.  And, if any of you can direct those of us out of the loop on this to a print or video source of this song, we’d be ever so grateful J.

F If the choir has access to music for the spiritual “Wade in the Water” plan on children accompanying the older singers with rhythm instruments.  Before singing point out the connection between the song and the story and imagine it being sung by Miriam and the others.  You might even want to make it a girls and women only contribution.

Genesis 50:15-21

F If you use this story, invite the children to come forward to help you read it.  Sit among them with your Bible (or the big pulpit Bible) open in your lap.  Briefly retell the story of Joseph and his brothers.  Then, tell them it is several years later and begin reading.  Ask an older child near you to read what the brothers said and the message they wrote to Joseph.  Make comments as needed to clarify what is happening.  Then continue the reading through verse 18.  Ask another child to read what Joseph said (vss 19-21a) and conclude the reading.  Take time to be sure the children understand what happened.  Then, invite them and the rest of the congregation to respond as usual to scripture readings.  If your Bible has large print, use it.  If not, copy the text below highlighting the words the children read.

& & & & & & & & & & &

Genesis 50:15-21

15 After the death of their father, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still hates us and plans to pay us back for all the harm we did to him?”

16So they sent a message to Joseph: “Before our father died, 17he told us to ask you, ‘Please forgive the crime your brothers committed when they wronged you.’ Now please forgive us the wrong that we, the servants of your father’s God, have done.” Joseph cried when he received this message.

18 Then his brothers themselves came and bowed down before him. “Here we are before you as your slaves,” they said.

19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid; I can’t put myself in the place of God. 20You plotted evil against me, but God turned it into good, in order to preserve the lives of many people who are alive today because of what happened. 21You have nothing to fear. I will take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them with kind words that touched their hearts.

Today’s English Version

& & & & & & & & & & &

Psalm 103: (1-7), 8-13

F Read from Today’s English Version rather than the NRSV for the sake of the children.

F Verses 8, 11 and 12 of this psalm are often used as an Assurance of Pardon in worship.  Use them that way today taking time to discuss their meaning.  Teach the children hand motions to them.  Invite the children to pronounce the Assurance of Pardon with you using the motions, then to go back to their seats using their hands to pass the peace to everyone they meet on their way.

The Lord is merciful and loving,                                
slow to become angry and full of constant love.
    Arms outstretched, palms up

He does not punish us as we deserve                      
or repay us according to our sins and wrongs.
    Make a horizontal slash with hand palm down

As high as the sky is above the earth, 
     Point up then stomp feet on the earth
so great is his love for those who honour him. 
     Hug selves

As far as the east is from the west,                  
so far does he remove our sins from us.
     Push one hand to the east, other to the west

     Fold hands together

                                                               Using Today’s English Version

Mama, Do You Love Me?, by Barbara M. Joosse, like Psalm 103 insists on love so great that it will forgive anything we do.  A little Inuit girl asks her mother repeatedly if she would still love her if she did a variety of naughty things.  The mother repeatedly insists that she would.  The book is full of Far North items like salmon, boots, oil lamps and polar bears.  (Read aloud time: 3 minutes without taking time to explore the pictures or talk about the Inuit animals and objects.)  This could be read and briefly discussed with children before reading Psalm 103.  Note that God loves each of us even more than the mother loved her dear little girl.  Or, read the book as the conclusion to the real sermon.  Children and parents will enjoy hearing a familiar story read in worship and connected to God’s forgiving love.  Easy to find in local library or bookstore.

Papa, Do You Love Me, also by Joose, is a very similar book about a father and son in the grasslands of Africa.  Maybe because I read it first, I prefer the Inuit story, but you may want to check out the African version.

Romans 14:1-12

F Children today are very aware of what and how people eat.  Food is a big deal.  They and people they know are omnivores, vegetarians, or vegans.  They are aware of, enjoy, or are put off by a variety of ethnic foods.  Their friends’ families tout all sorts of diets.  Lunches come to school in all sorts of containers that may be as important to the children as the food in them.  Since most children have a fairly open attitude toward all these differences, they are a good starting point for discussing how we judge others.  We do eat differently and that is OK.  We also dress differently, have different abilities, celebrate different holidays, and live in different ways.  Some of these lead to judgmental name calling – brain, dummy, jock, beauty queen,  etc.  As children settle into the school year, a lot of categorizing of classmates goes on, sometimes viciously.  This is an opportunity to talk about Paul’s insistence that we should not judge people by these sorts of things and to challenge children to avoid such judging.

F The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes, is way too long to read in worship, but can be told.  The girls in a class make life miserable for Wanda Petronski who wears the same blue dress to school every day and lives on the poor side of town, but claims to have 100 dresses at home in her closet.  When her father moves away to find a place where she will be accepted, she sends 100 beautiful drawings of dresses as her entry in a school art contest.  She wins the contest and the girls confront what they have done. 

Matthew 18:21-35

F The math here is not clear.  Jesus told Peter that he should forgive either 77 times or 70 x7 (or 490) times. 

To emphasize how many 77 is fill a bowl with 77 small polished stones (available in the florist section of craft stores or home supply stores).  Ask worshipers to guess how many are in it.  Then count them together saying the numbers aloud as you take them out of the bowl and pile them beside it.  Tell worshipers that there are 77 of something important in today’s gospel reading, then read it.  Follow the reading with a discussion of the impossibility of keeping count of how many times you had forgiven your brother (or sister).  “Was that the 47th time or the 48th time?”  Finally put Jesus’ point in your own words – we are to forgive those who hurt us every time they hurt us.

If you use 70 X 7, present it as a math problem before reading the text.  On a large piece of paper print 70 x7 =.  Present it to the children/congregation for a solution.  Note that 490 is a big number, then invite them to listen for the number in the text as it is read.  After the reading do the same conversation about Jesus’ point in telling Peter to forgive his brother 490 times.

F Children are fascinated by the two reasons we have to forgive a lot of times.

1.     We all know at least one person who is forever doing things that hurt us.  It may a sibling, a difficult classmate, a teacher who doesn’t seem to like us, or a neighborhood bully.  Every day they do something new for which we must forgive them.  (See Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing below.)
2.     There are also some things so awful that we can’t just decide to forgive the person who does them to us once and be done with it.  We have to decide to forgive them over and over until it finally begins to stick - for example, a classmate who intentionally breaks or defaces something special to you – maybe a new book bag or notebook.  Every time you see that person or use the damaged item, you have to forgive him or her again.

F If you need examples of the things for which a big brother might have to forgive a pesky little brother, read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, by Judy Blume.  “Fudge” destroys the committee created school project that was being kept in Peter’s room overnight.  When Fudge swallows Peter’s turtle (the only pet Peter is allowed) everyone is more concerned about Fudge than about Peter’s much loved turtle.  And there is more.  Read, laugh, and mine for sermon illustrations.

F Before children can understand the parable in this text, they need an explanation of the financial terms debt and forgiveness.  They need to be told that forgiveness means not that you have a longer time to pay off a debt, but that you don’t have to pay it off at all.

F Before reading the parable, bring out a large cloth bag that might be filled with gold coins (actually filled with blocks).  Set it on one side of the lectern.  Then produce a single gold coin (maybe an old Mardi Gras coin?) to put on the other side of the lectern.  Announce that Jesus told a story about a man who owed this much money (pointing to the sack) and another man who owed this much (pointing to the coin).  Urge readers to listen carefully.  Then read the parable.  Leave the props in place for reference during the sermon.

THE LORD’S PRAYER CONNECTION!      When I posted this I did not realize that it was part of a series on the Lord’s Prayer, but surprise!  It is.  There is a connection to the Lord’s Prayer almost every Sunday in September and early October – mostly in the Exodus stories, but today in several of the other texts.  Use the activity below as part of the series or let it stand alone.

F Highlight the phrase in the Lord’s Prayer about forgiveness by praying a responsive prayer in which the line from the Lord’s Prayer is the response of the congregation.   Feel free to adapt the sample below.
NOTE: The Ecumenical version of this phrase “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” makes more sense to children (and most worshipers) than forgive us our debts or transgressions or trespasses.  The English language is moving on.  Maybe this is an opportunity to introduce the Ecumenical Version of this prayer and move toward using it your congregation.


Prayer About Being Forgiven and Forgiving

Loving God, we admit that we are not always loving and kind.  We know that we can be selfish and mean to other people, even to people we love.

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Forgive us for the words we say and the things we do that hurt other people.

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Great God we know that you love and forgive not only us, but all people.  Teach us to be like you.  Show us how to love and forgive those who are not kind or loving to us.  Give us your power to forgive them when they are as selfish and mean as we sometimes are.

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Help us forgive them when they do things and say words that hurt us.

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Forgiving God, your son Jesus taught us this prayer and then died on the cross to prove to us that you do forgive us and everyone else in the world.  Teach us how to pray this prayer.  Make us deeply aware that we are forgiven.  And, help us forgive those who sin against us.  For we pray in Jesus name.


Assurance of Pardon:  Hear the good news.  God does forgive us for all the impossibly unloving things we do and the hurting words we say.  God also forgives others for the impossibly unloving things they do and hurtful words they say – even when they do them and say them to us.  And, God stands with us as we find our ways to forgive each other.  Thanks be to God!



  1. Yeah! Pharaoh Pharaoh is definitely a great camp song. Here's two YouTube posts, though you'll definitely be able to find others.

  2. How cool is that! I hope others will post their favorites.

    This is actually from Carolyn (who once again can't make Comments show her name. Go figure!!!!)

  3. I have used your books for years (I have served 30 years in Children & Youth ministry in local churches and at the Presbytery level). Your ideas and their theological underpinnings have been a huge blessing...I am delighted to have found this fresh and immensely helpful blog!

  4. The music to Pharaoh, Pharaoh can be found in the old white Group Songbook that I have had for about 15-20 years. It is really fun to sing. I taught it to my congregation three years ago when I preached on this passage. It was part of the sermon!

  5. I've led and sung"Pharaoh, Pharaoh" as a camp counselor. Indeed, it is an energetic song with great hand movements. Looking back, though, I've been less comfortable with the "dead man's float" reference in the song. (Pharaoh's army). Not that it doesn't happen in the Bible, and not that we don't bring it up with children somehow, but we always sang it with triumphalistic glee. In fact, I even shy away from singing it period for that reason. Yes, the Israelites may have felt this way, but with our (hopefully) growing sensitivity to other issues of retribution and revenge (9/11?) , I'd love to see a different line to substitute in the song.

  6. Peter, thanks for a very good caution about the delight in revenge in this song. Listening again to the videos I realized I can't hear lots of the lyrics - wish I had the white Group songbook. Anybody, got a good replacement for the deadman's float line and any others that lean away from celebration of escape toward reveling in revenge?

  7. I'm having difficulty accessing the link which uses sound effects for the Exodus story. Help anyone??

  8. Anonymous, you are correct. There is a problem with the link. I can't get it to accept my correction, but if you try the address below it should work. Let me know if it does not.


    "Pharaoh, Pharaoh..." with lyrics.


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