Monday, August 29, 2011

Year A - Proper 20, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 18, 2011)

Exodus 16:2-15

X To make this story easier for children to follow I would omit verses 6-8.  They are basically repeated in a slightly different form in verses 9-12.

OK, it is not bread but rice.  For some
 reason in looked more like manna than
 the plastic slice of loaf bread did.
X Before reading the story show worshipers the piece of plastic fried chicken and slice of plastic bread   (To secure these, formally borrow them from the children in a kindergarten class telling them how you will use them.  If the church does not have plastic food, many preschoolers have it at home.  Ask around to get a loan for worship.  The involved preschoolers will feel instantly more connected to worship.)  Tell worshipers that this is a story about food and encourage them to listen for what the people ate.  After the reading or after a sermon exploring the story, place the chicken and bread where they belong in the Moses display.

X If you are going to explore the lack of trust of the people and their whining, set the stage for the story by recalling in detail God’s deliverance and nurture something like…

When the people were made slaves by Pharaoh and cried out to God to save them, God sent them Moses to lead them out of slavery.
When Pharaoh refused to let them go, God sent plagues to help him change his mind.
When Pharaoh did not let the people go in response to the frogs, the gnats, the darkness, the cattle diseases, or the itchy sores, God staged the Passover and Moses led the people out of slavery.
When Pharaoh came after them with his whole army, God opened the sea for them to cross safely to the other side, away from Pharaoh forever.
You’d think after all this they would understand, but after they had been walking across the desert for a while, listen to what happened.

All this detail helps the children remember the stories you have been telling and prepares them to hear today’s story in context.

MY GOODNESS!  We have a series going and I didn’t realize it until now.  Almost every Sunday in September and early October has a Lord’s Prayer connection.  So, I have doubled back to add one connection I had missed on September 4 and highlight the one I had in place on September 11.  The one for August 28 will have to wait until the next trip through the lectionary.  Below is today’s connection.  Watch for more in the weeks ahead.

X Before or just after praying the Lord’s Prayer, direct worshipers to the phrase “Give us this day our daily bread.”  Note that it says give US OUR bread rather than give ME MY bread.  Jesus insists that we pray for everyone.  Using a globe or map point out places where food is a problem.  Recall some of the food ministries in which your congregation participates.  And, pray for all of these.  The prayers may be voiced by one person after exploring all the food spots or the process could become a responsive prayer of petitions like the following.

g g g g g g g g g g g g

God, in East Africa your people feel just like the slaves in the wilderness.  They are walking miles and miles across the wilderness searching for food.  Animals and armed gangs chase them.  Be with your people, God.  Keep them safe and guide them to food.

Give us this day our daily bread.

There are people working hard to get food to your hungry people.  They gather food from all over the world and risk great danger to get it to the people who need it.  Protect them.  Keep them safe and help them get the food to those who need it.

Give us this day our daily bread.

God of the harvest, bring rain and sunshine to crops growing in the fields all around your world.  Give us good harvests so that people may have food to eat.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Loving God, teach us to share.  So often there is enough food for everyone.  We simply need to share it.  Give us generous hearts and hands so that we may all eat.

Give us this day our daily bread.

g g g g g g g g g g g g

Psalm 105:1-6,37-45

Do not use this psalm in worship until the Exodus text has been read and explored.  Before reading it, tell worshipers that this psalm was written remembering how God led them out of Egypt and fed them in the wilderness.  Urge young worshipers to listen for words like Egypt, food and quail.

Jonah 3:10-4:11

X FYI: Jonah shows up in the lectionary only here and on the third Sunday of Epiphany in Year B (January 22, 2012).  The Epiphany reading tells only that God sent Jonah to Nineveh the second time and that Nineveh repented.  Today’s reading adds Jonah’s preaching in Nineveh and the story of the vine.  Neither tells about the whale.  I would be tempted to build worship around the whole story on one of these Sundays. 

Either take time to read the whole book (it is very short) dramatically with worshipers following along in pew Bibles.  The whole congregation could read the psalm in chapter 2 in unison.

Or read the whole story of Jonah with three readers using Jonah and the Whale, by Jean Marzollo.  Secure and rehearse two readers – God and Jonah.  God reads all the yellow statements by God, Jonah reads his lines which are printed around his pictures.  You read the narrator’s text.  For ease, omit the statement by the Ninevites and all the fish in the whale’s belly.  Also omit the last page of the book on which Marzolla goes beyond the biblical story claiming that Jonah did forgive the Ninevites.  If sound allows, have God stand behind the central table, Jonah sit or stand on the steps off to the side, and the narrator read from the lectern.  Each one reads from his/her copy of the book.

from The Family Story Bible,
by Ralph Milton
For a one-reader telling of the whole story try, “The Funny Story of Jonah” on pages 152-154 in The Family Story Bible, by Ralph Milton.  (Reading time: just under 5 minutes)

X Before reading the story in any form point to Nineveh on a map and explain why Jonah hated the Ninevites.

X To respond to the story of Jonah, brainstorm a list of enemies.  Mention Al-Qaeda and other national enemies aloud.  Invite worshipers to silently list their own “least favorite people.”  Then lead in prayer for the welfare of those people.

X If you are exploring the grace theme (see Matthew parable), point out that Jonah was glad when God gave him grace.  He knew he did not deserve to be saved after running away from God and it was OK with him if God made a plant grow over him for shade.  What was not OK with him was God giving grace to people he  Jonah did not like.  He did not want to get what he deserved, but he wanted his enemies to get what they deserved.  Children can see the problem with that – even though they understand Jonah’s angry wish.

Psalm 145:1-8

This psalm praising God begs for dramatic reading that includes the congregation.  It is an acrostic, an alphabet poem.  Each line begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  That means the verses are independent praises.  So,

Arrange the psalm for responsive reading between congregation and leader or choir or between two sides of the congregation.

Or to enjoy the acrostic nature of the psalm invite the children forward.  Teach them the Hebrew letters in today’s psalm then with them say the appropriate letter as the congregation reads each line of the psalm.  To streamline this, work with one class of children in advance then invite them to lead the psalm with you.

& & & & & & & & & & &

PSALM 145:1-8

I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.

Every day I will bless you,
and praise your name forever and ever.

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.

One generation shall laud your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.

On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.

The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed,
and I will declare your greatness.

They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness,
and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

                                                         New Revised Standard Version

& & & & & & & & & & &

Philippians 1:21-30

On a Sunday with three strong stories, it is hard to get excited about unpacking this text for children.  It requires lots of explaining to get to a message that does not have a strong connection to their lives.

Verse 27 may be effectively used as a charge to the congregation just before the benediction.  Preface it with “As Paul wrote the Christians in Philippi, I charge you….”

Matthew 20:1-16

X Read this parable from a translation that uses current times (noon and three o’clock) rather than the old hours of the day (fifth and ninth hour).  NRSV and TEV are two such translations.

X Dramatize the reading of this parable.  Before worship find and prepare the landowner.  During worship ask for volunteers (maybe all children or worshipers of many ages) to help you show Jesus’ parable to the congregation.  You need a minimum of five volunteers and more is much better.  When they arrive at the front, tell them that they are to be grape pickers in this parable.  Show them how to pick grapes off a vine at shoulder level then stoop to put them in a basket at their feet.  Repeat the motion with them several times.  Tell them that once they are hired to work at the vineyard, they must keep repeating the motion until the end of the work day.  Then, divide them into five groups standing a little apart from each other.  Introduce the landowner and point out where the vineyard is.  Finally, go to the Bible to read the parable.  As the story unfolds the landowner moves more and more workers to picking grapes in a row across the front of the sanctuary in the order in which he hired them.  When the time to pay the workers comes, the landowner hands each worker a large coin (maybe a Mardi Gras coin, a play money coin, or even a cardboard disk painted gold) starting with last to be hired. 

This could be the reading of the gospel for the day.  In that case at the end of the reading call for the usual congregational response to the reading of the gospel, thank the volunteers for their help and send them back to their seats.

Or, you could move into the sermon, stepping into the last scene to ask workers hired at different times how they felt about their day’s work and pay.  Only then send them back to their seats and proceed with your comments.

X “It’s not fair!” is the frequent impassioned cry of 7-9 year olds.  They watch what everyone around them is doing and getting and insist that they get their fair share of the fries, the privileges, and all the other goodies.  They totally understand the complaint of the first hired workers.  One of their other passions – rules – helps them understand Jesus’ point.  Walk them through the agreement each group of workers made when they were hired and what they were paid, then to ask “was that fair.”  Some will suggest that had they known what the others would be paid for less work, the first hired workers would not have agreed.  Simply insist that the first hired did not know that and still made the agreement they did.  Because the landowner followed the rules, the children will grudgingly admit that it was fair.  Having admitted that, they can explore the landowner’s claim that he did not mistreat the first hired.  Instead, he was generous to the last hired. 

X Sometimes it is better to be loving than to be fair.  Giving little kids extra strikes or letting them stand closer to the pitcher in family ball games is not fair to the older players, but it is loving.  Doing a sibling’s chores while they are sick, is not fair, but it is loving.  Giving up what you want to do on a Saturday afternoon to take care of a younger sibling is not fair, but it is loving.  And, paying the workers who only worked one hour the same amount you paid the workers who worked all day, is not fair, but it is loving. 

             GRACIOUS     GRACE     GRACEFUL

X If you use the word GRACE frequently in today’s worship, take time to introduce it.  Display a big poster with GRACE and possibly GRACIOUS printed in large letters on it.  Point out some of the very different meanings of the word –
-         Grace is a girl’s name (ask if there is anyone named Grace in the congregation)
-         When a person can move beautifully (dancing, athletics) we say they have grace or are graceful
-         The prayer we say before eating is called a grace
-         Giving someone something they do not deserve
- a grace period to turn in homework you did not finish
- the landowner paying the last hired workers a whole day’s wage
- God forgiving us even when we don’t deserve us
Present the poster and introduce the word GRACE at the beginning of the service encouraging worshipers to listen for the word in your worship today.  Refer to it when appropriate during the service.

X Before singing “There’s A Wideness in God’s Mercy” read through the words connecting it to God’s love seen in this parable and in the Jonah story.  Worshipers of all ages will then pay more attention to the words as they sing them.

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!


Monday, August 22, 2011

Year A - Proper 18, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 4, 2011)

Exodus 12:1-14

_ There are two possible additions to the Moses display for this week.

Since the lectionary jumps from the burning bush to instructions for Passover, add a walking stick to the display today as you tell the story of the plagues using the text below.  Do this to set the stage for reading the Passover instructions in Exodus.  Use the walking stick again next week to cross the divided sea and move into the desert.

Place several pieces of matzo in a basket to recall the unleavened bread everyone ate as they left slavery in Egypt.  If you are celebrating Communion today, note that Jesus was celebrating Passover when he invented Communion.  The bread he broke was matzo.  To emphasize that connection use matzo (available in most large groceries) as you celebrate the sacrament today.

p p p p p p p p p p p p

_ Fill in the gap between the burning bush and Passover by telling the story of the plagues using a walking stick.  (FYI the story of the plagues is not included in the Revised Common Lectionary anywhere.)  Enlist the choir in advance to serve as the voice of pharaoh.  The choir says “No way!” every time Moses threatens a plague, points their fingers dramatically as they say “Go!” after the plague arrives, and folds their arms over their chests while saying emphatically “Not a chance!” after Moses calls off the plague.  Clearly cue them with “and pharaoh said.”  One brief rehearsal will help.

Moses went to Pharaoh and said, “God says, ‘Let  my people go!’”  But Pharaoh said….(point to choir).  This started a long contest between Pharaoh and Moses and God.  It began with blood.  Moses put his walking stick into the Nile River (stick the walking stick into the imaginary river in front of you) and the river turned into blood.  Pharaoh was not impressed.

So Moses said to Pharaoh, “God says, ‘Let my people go or I will bring hundreds of thousands of frogs out of the Nile River…’.”  And Pharaoh said… (point to choir).   So Moses held his walking stick over the river (hold up your walking stick) and hundreds of thousands of frogs came out of the river.  Describe finding frogs in your closet, in your shoes, and under your pillow.  (Pointing to the choir) “and pharaoh said…”   So Moses made the frogs stop (lower the walking stick).  But when the frogs were gone, pharaoh thought again about losing all the Hebrew slaves (pointing to the choir) “and pharaoh said…”

Next Moses said to pharaoh, “God says ‘Let my people go or I will bring millions of gnats upon you and your people’.”  But pharaoh said (pointing to the choir)….    So Moses stirred up the dust with his walking sticking (stir on the floor with your walking stick) and an enormous swarm of gnats filled the air.  Describe how the people swatted gnats and how itchy the gnat bites on your elbow and behind your knees were.  So, (pointing to the choir) pharaoh said….   Moses lowered his walking stick and the gnats flew away.  After he had swatted the last gnat, Pharaoh breathed a sigh of relief and then pharaoh said,  (point to choir).

Repeat this for the plagues of flies, livestock disease, boils, hail and lighting, locusts, and darkness.  Enjoy the contest which pharaoh always loses.  Then note that there was one more round and that it was scarier and sadder than any of the others.  It would not have been needed had pharaoh gotten the message.  But he did not.  Place the walking stick in the display.  Read Exodus 12:12 to tell what God would do.  Then noting that God had a very special plan for the slaves to survive that night, read the entire Exodus text.

Warning:  Children, especially first-born children, are both offended and frightened by this story.  It seems unfair to them that because pharaoh was bad, the children of Egypt should be killed.  It also surprises and alarms them that the God who loves and takes care of children would do such a thing.  They (understandably) tend to blame God rather than pharaoh.  Pointing out that pharaoh made it necessary is worth a try, but often does not satisfy thoughtful children.  It is better to go quickly through this part to focus on the detailed directions for eating the lamb, painting blood on the door, and getting ready to leave for freedom.

p p p p p p p p p p p p

_ “Moses in Egypt” (26 minutes) is an artful telling of the story of Moses from his birth up to the escape from Egypt.  Danny Glover narrates the story over well chosen music and still-art illustrations.  It is aimed at older children, youth and adults and is not cutesy in any way.  It ends with lots of expressive pictures of the faces of the slaves as they walk away from Egypt.  Order from Rabbit Ears at

The plague portion of “Moses, Prince of Egypt”, the animated Dreamworks film, is one I would NOT show in worship.  The destruction is very visual and the suffering of the people is obvious.  The depiction of the Passover plague shows many children going about daily tasks only to fall over dead as a spooky grayish cloud passes over them.  It frightens and worries some children.
LATE ADDITION!!!        While working on the texts for September 18, I discovered that there is a worship education series in or at least a Lord’s Prayer connection between many of the September texts (especially the Exodus stories) and Jesus’ prayer.  So, I’m doubling back to add a new possiblity for today.  Watch for others in future weeks.

Begin intercessory prayers today by recalling that this story began with pharaoh holding God’s people as slaves.  Pharaoh thought he was king of the world, even thought he was a god.  But when people cried for help, the real God answered.  God’s kingdom was coming and God’s will was being done in pharaoh’s Egypt.  Invite the congregation to pray with you for places where God’s kingdom is wanted and God’s will needs to be done today.  The congregation’s response will be a familiar phrase from the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  Remind them as they pray about tough situations today to remember with hope what God did for the slaves in Egypt.  As I write this I’d include petitions about Libya, political deadlock, problems between people in classes/teams/offices/families….

Psalm 149

I’m guessing this psalm was included as a way of celebrating the Passover from slavery to freedom.  Unfortunately, the last half of the psalm also celebrates vengeance.  Adults can talk about why such verses got into the Bible.  But children hear little of that conversation.  So, I would either read only verses 1-6a or choose Psalm 119:33-40 instead.

Psalm 119:33-40 (the alternate psalm)

This is a section of the long alphabet poem celebrating God’s Law.  All the lines in this section begin with the fifth letter of the Hebrew letter – He.  Each line begins with a verb asking God’s help with living by God’s Law.  After exploring the laws about loving neighbors in Romans, children are ready to hear these prayers.  The verbs in the Good News Translation (teach me the meaning of your law, explain to me, keep me obedient, give me the desire to obey, keep me from paying attention to what is worthless, keep your promise to me, save me from insults, and I want to obey your commands) make more immediate sense to children than those in the NRSV (teach me your statutes, give me understanding, lead me in the path, turn my heart to your decrees, turn my eyes from vanities, confirm your servant in your promise, turn away the disgrace, and I have longed for you precepts).  After putting some of these prayers into your own words, encourage worshipers to create their own prayers about loving our neighbors as God commands us.  For example,

Help me be a loving brother or sister.
Show me how to be kind to those who are not kind to me.
Help me find ways to be a peacemaker at school.

Romans 13:8-14

_ Verses 8-10 are the heart of this passage for children.  To help them explore it write each of the 10 Commandments on a separate poster board.  Hand them out to ten children (or to 10 worshipers of a variety of ages).  Point out that these rules teach us how to love God and love each other.  Then, read each rule and decide with the congregation whether it is about loving God or loving people.  As you do, reposition the poster bearers to stand in two groups – those whose rule is about loving God and those whose rule is about loving people.  After all are sorted, thank the “Love God” poster bearers and send them to their seats noting that though loving God is surely important, today we are thinking about loving people.  Then, open your Bible or go to the large worship Bible to read Romans 13:8-10.  As you read each law Paul mentions point to that poster or ask its bearer to raise it.  Thank them for helping the congregation pay attention to Paul’s letter and send them back to their seats.

_ Before the prayers of intercession, invite worshipers of all ages to write names of people they encounter every day on a piece of paper (perhaps a corner torn off a worship handout).  These may be people it is hard for them to love or people for whom they have a special prayer.  Collect these names by passing prayer baskets (like passing offering plates) that are put on the central worship table.  The prayer leader then offers verbal prayers of intercession perhaps holding his/her hands over the baskets or holding them up in the air.  (If your congregation gathers prayer requests during worship, this could be done at the same time.)

Matthew 18:15-20

Two children’s books provide great illustrations of resolving conflict by talking with the other side.

The Hating Book, by Charlotte Zolotow, tells of a little girl whose best friend has suddenly dropped her.  The girl is very angry, but finally at her mother’s repeated urging, she goes to talk with the friend and discovers that there has been a big misunderstanding that is easily reconciled.  This very terse story in Seussian language can be read in less than 3 minutes.  Though the pictures are wonderful, the story can be understood without them.

In Enemy Pie, by Derek Munson, a perfect summer is ruined when Jeremy Ross moves in next door and becomes enemy number one on the young narrator’s list.  Fortunately, Dad has a recipe for enemy pie and promises to make it.  The narrator must help by providing one of the secret ingredients – he must play with the enemy for one entire day treating him well.  Of course while the two talk and play together, Jeremy morphs from an enemy into a friend.  The story can be told in your own words or read aloud in about 10 minutes.

And if your children are among those who are just starting back to school next week, take a look at the Back To School! ideas.  This will definitely be the last week for this reminder this fall!