Thursday, August 16, 2012

Year B - Proper 18, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, 15th Sunday after Pentecost (September 9, 2012)

Royalty free photo from Stockxchng
u It is hard not to use pictures of marginalized people in today’s worship.  They remind the adults of all the people they overlook everyday and they provide the children with specific examples of the general terms (the poor, the oppressed, etc.) that appear in many of the texts.  They also translate biblical terms such as “the beggar at the gate” into today’s images of beggars along the highway.  So, I suggest using pictures in a variety of ways and hope you will use one of them or be led to use such pictures in a different way.

u The central prop for this service is tattered clothing.  A set of tattered clothes could be hung on a hanger on a clothes rack at the center of the worship area.  Several sets of worn out holey shoes and boots for people of all sexes and ages could be lined up on the floor in front of the Communion Table.

u True confessions time!  I was almost ready to post this when I realized that September 9 may be Rally Day in many churches.  Care for the poor is not a great theme for that day.  But, Jesus’ command to the deaf mute man to Open Up! is.  I held off hitting the post button to add a few ideas that fit that situation.  So, if it’s Rally Day at your place, go straight to the gospel ideas and “Ephphatha!”

Proverbs 22:1-2,8-9,22-23

u This is a collection of sayings.  Today they might be tweets or sound bytes.  To separate them have each one read by a different reader.  The readers might be from a youth church school class or the members of the mission committee. 

James Henry Cafferty (1819 - 1869),
Sidewalks of New York, or Rich Girl, Poor Girl, 1859.
Public Domain
u Adults easily follow the threads connecting these sayings.  But since each saying includes details that must be explained to children, it is better to select one or two sayings to highlight with them.  Verse 2 is one good choice.  To explore it display the painting of the rich and poor girls.  Discuss the differences and similarities in the two girls.  Conclude with both being made by God, loved by God, God’s daughters. 

Psalm 125

u This psalm includes lots of historical references that need explaining and several theologically complex ideas.  I’d work explore the other texts for this day with the children in mind.

Isaiah 35:4-7a

u The TEV replaces the lines about “vengeance” and ”recompense” with “God is coming to your rescue, coming to punish your enemies.”  That change alone makes it the first choice translation for children to follow.

u Before reading this text, gather a small group of worshipers around you each holding up a poster size picture of a person who is marginalized today.  Then read the verses for the pictured people, the woman who insisted that Jesus heal her daughter, and the deaf man.  (This is probably more effective when done later in the service.)

Psalm 146

u The Roman Catholic lectionary suggests focusing the reading on verses 7-10 which is the list of ways God cares for the marginalized.  That keeps the focus on the theme of the service.  I would add verses 5 and 6 simply to complete the list without going into the description of human leaders in the early verses.

u Verses 5-10 list what God does with emphasis on the care of the marginalized.  To make the list even clearer, replace all the he’s with “The Lord” or “God.”  Include the congregation in reading the psalm by either having different halves of the congregation read alternating statements saying “the Lord” with great emphasis or having the congregation say “The Lord” with a leader completing each phrase.  To really share the psalmist’s praises, read the psalm early in a service exploring God’s care of the marginalized then reread it near the end of the service – with feeling.

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What God Does
Psalm 146:5-10

ALL:             Praise the Lord!
LEADER:    Happy are those who have the God of Jacob to help them
and who depend on the Lord their God,

The Lord created heaven, earth, and sea,
and all that is in them.

The Lord keeps every promise;

The Lord judges in favor of the oppressed

The Lord gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets prisoners free

The Lord gives sight to the blind.

The Lord lifts those who have fallen;

The Lord loves righteous people.

The Lord protects the strangers who live in our land;

The Lord helps widows and orphans,
but takes the wicked to their ruin.
LEADER: The Lord is king forever.
        Your God, O Zion, will reign for all time.

ALL:           Praise the Lord!

                                                   Based on TEV

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Royalty free photo
from Stockxchng
u Find pictures depicting the people in each phrase.  Project them as the phrases are read.  Or, print them poster size and write the phrase that goes with the picture on the back of it for readers to read as they display the phrase to the congregation.  The reader could be a worship leader or a collection of worshipers of all ages enlisted as readers.

James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17

u The somewhat hokey choice of reader for this is of course a man dressed shabbily.  Adults will snicker and see past it.  But it helps the children get the point visually and clearly.

u The Hungry Coat: A Tale from Turkey, by Demi, is a colorful parallel to this story.  Nasrettin Hoca, a wise old man, stops to help people deal with a goat and so has no time to go home and change clothes before a feast.  When he goes to the feast in his patched, smelly coat, everyone ignores him and he is offered no food.  So he goes home, cleans up and dons a magnificent coat.  When he goes back to the feast and is welcomed in grand style and offered the best food, he begins putting pieces of food inside the coat saying “Eat coat, eat.”  Asked about this, he says that when he came in his old coat he was given nothing but when he came in this coat he was offered food.  He can only assume that his kind host felt that this coat must be hungry.  Everyone at the feast laughs at themselves and praises Nasrettin Hoca’s great wisdom.  The book is too long to read in its entirety, so briefly tell the simple story in your own words and start reading with “A servant ushered Nasrettin into the banquet hall, and his smiling host…” continuing to the end.  Even taking time for dramatic flair, this part of the book can be read in fewer than five minutes.  Though it could be shared in a children’s message, it is worthy of the “real” sermon and its presence there suggests to children that the sermon is for them too.

u A shorter but less precisely matched book is Is There Room on the Feather Bed?, by Libba Moore Gray.  On a stormy night animals one by one ask to be let inside to join a farmer and wife in their warm dry bed.  All are welcomed though the bed does get crowded.  When a skunk arrives and is admitted, all the animals and the farmer flee.  Back out in the storm, they decide to join the skunk where it is warm and dry.  (Reads aloud in 8 minutes).  Some adults will see the feather bed as a metaphor for the church.  But, most children will simply take in the wisdom of including everyone, especially in a storm.

u James is not so much encouraging people to buy the shabbily dressed man a new coat, as he is asking them to treat the man with the same respect they would offer a well dressed man.  Learning to do that in a culture that separates and creates fear between the richer and the poorer requires practice.  Highlight ministries of your congregation that families can share in to get this practice.  In my community all the churches take turns hosting homeless men overnight during the cold months.  Families are urged to cook and serve together and to stay to play board games and visit with the men.  It is scary the first time, but the fear soon evaporates.  Telling stories of such ministries in detail, maybe asking a family including children to tell about their experiences, prods others to get involved.

Mark 7:24-37

This is my preliminary sketch.  Give it to an artist
 to develop into a poster, banner, bulletin cover,  whatever else.
u If you are observing Rally Day or the beginning of programs for the academic year this week, this is your passage.  It includes two healing stories.  Both include the healing of Gentiles.  In healing the deaf-mute man, Jesus uses the Aramaic word “”Ephphatha!” which means “Open Up!”  Jesus was telling the man’s ears to open up.  But, Mark was telling his readers to open up to the possibility that Jesus was the messiah and that Jesus reached out to more than just other Jews.  It would also be possible to suggest that the Syro-phoenician woman was telling Jesus to open up to caring for her and her daughter.  All that leads to calling church members today to open up to new possibilities for learning and growing at the church and in other parts of their lives.

Ephphatha! Enjoy the impossible to pronounce but fun to say word.  Turn it into a large decorative poster or banner.  Use it as a congregational response in litanies or prayers about opening up to the world around us.

Use opened and closed motions in prayers.  Clenched hands, arms folded across chests, hands over ears (or eyes), frowny facial expressions illustrate ways we refuse to open up.  Open hands, arms opened out or forward, hands cupped behind ears to hear better or over eyes to see better, and smiling facial expressions illustrate ways we open ourselves to God’s word and each other.  These motions and matching prayers could become the prayer of confession or could be used to craft petitions for more openness.

“Open My Eyes That I May See” and “Lord, Speak to Me, that I May Speak” are the most child-friendly hymns for this theme.

Other familiar biblical stories about opening up that can be added to this theme are Peter eating with Gentiles, Matthew who left his lucrative, but lonely tax-collecting business to follow Jesus, and Jonah who was challenged to open up to the Ninevites.

u If you read both stories in this passage, have them read by two different readers, maybe even reading from two different places, to highlight their separateness.  Verses 24-29 are read by a woman, possibly a woman with different ethnic background than the majority of the congregation.  Verses 30-37 are read by a man. 

u If you work with both healing stories and are not following the Ephphatha theme, this is a good opportunity to highlight the ways your congregation makes its buildings accessible to people with handicaps.  We may not be able to cure them, but we can make sure they can be full participants in everything the church does together.  For the children demonstrate as well as simply name this accessibility equipment.  Put a child in a wheel chair and roll her to worship leadership area.  Ask someone using a hearing device to prove that he hears you from where he is sitting. 

Jesus heals the woman’s daughter

u Children need to be told that in Jesus’ day people had not yet learned about mental illness.  When people acted strangely and seemed crazy, they thought little evil demons had taken over their minds.  Today we know that our minds can get sick.  We are just beginning to learn about how that happens and how mind illnesses can be cured.  This mother’s daughter was doing and saying things that were not normal.  Imagine how happy she was to go home and find her child sitting up in bed and greeting her as any child greets her mother.

u Think about the woman and her daughter in this story rather than about Jesus.  This woman was fierce, she did not let anything or anyone get in her way to get her daughter healed.  She was on a mission.  Her fierceness and determination impressed Jesus.  They got her what she most needed and wanted – healing for her daughter AND they may have changed Jesus’ mind about who he was sent to save.  Fierceness and determination don’t always get you what you want, but they sometimes change the world.  That leads us to ask what we are willing to pursue with that sort of fierceness and determination and how we could change the world.

At a community Halloween gathering last year I saw a Grandmother - Granddaughter duo wearing matching Wonder Woman costumes and the most serene, self-confident smiles you can imagine.  They were African Americans and clearly knew themselves to be Wonder Women.  I suspect there is a connection between them and the woman and daughter in this story.  That biblical mother was definitely Wonder Woman for her daughter.  I suspect she also taught that healed daughter that she too was by nature a wonder woman and could rise to any situation needed.  They were fierce, capable wonderful women created by God.  And, of course they lead me to remember all sorts of Wonder Women I hear of around the world and know in my own life.  Little girls and mothers need to soak up these women.

u Horton the elephant in Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who is like the woman in that he persists in getting protection for the tiny whos only he can hear.  The biblical mother refused to let others discount and brush aside her and her sick daughter.  She knew that each of them were real live persons and that they counted.  Like that Mother, Horton does not give in.  Even when others tease him and then try to forcibly stop him, Horton fiercely stands up for the whos because “a person’s a person no matter how small”.  The book is too long to read in worship, so check it out of the library and tell it.  To set the tone and enjoy the verse read the first 5 pages (ending with “and placed it down safe on a very soft clover.”)  Describe the response of the kangaroo and her child.  Then, read the page “in the high jungle tree tops, the news quickly spread…”  Retell the rest of the plot in your own words.  Conclude by reading the last two pages starting with “Finally at last from that speck on the clover, their voices were heard!...”

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your work! I often consult this site. This week I had planned to use the Feather Bed book which I had seen referenced elsewhere, but when I finally got it from my library, it didn't seem like such a good match. Somehow I had failed to check your site earlier and coming here, I found a much better option with The Hungry Coat. Thank you!


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