Thursday, February 7, 2013

Year C - Third Sunday in Lent (March 3, 2013)

Some Sundays in Lent this year have a clear unifying theme.  This is not one of them.  I can imagine worship services going all sorts of directions.  That makes it hard to identify one heart for the heart series.  The best may be adding hearts to the communion table as a way of celebrating God’s loving gifts (see below).  If you can find heart shaped confetti (shop before Valentine’s Day!), it could be spread on the floor around the Table or sprinkled over children gathered on the steps as a reminder of all God’s abundant gifts.  If you build on the repentance theme, finding a heart that makes sense to children is harder.  Actually, using these texts to explore repentance with children is hard.  I’d save repentance for other texts from the prophets or John the Baptist.  If you create a repentance heart, do tell the rest of us about it!

Both Isaiah and Paul insist that God showers us with an abundance of gifts, all we need.  If you will celebrate communion this week, there are connections that suggest a little on-the-job worship education.

U The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving in the Communion liturgy is generally known as “that long prayer before communion” by children.  They are quickly lost in all the images and big words.  To help especially older children listen take time just before the sacramental liturgy to walk through the prayer with them.  Point out that the prayer names all the gifts of love God gives us.  Explain the pattern that lies behind this list of gifts, i.e. God created the world and us, then kept loving us when we messed up, and finally sent Jesus to love and forgive us.  Read version of the prayer you will use today stopping for a child to place a red paper heart on the Table for each gift named.  Leave those hearts in place during the sacrament.  Encourage the children to listen to the prayer today and to listen every time it is prayed for the gifts God gives us.  Choose or create a Great Prayer of Thanksgiving today using as child-friendly language as possible.  Below is my stab at it.  (I separated the lines to show the points at which a heart is added to the Table.)  If you write one, share it with the rest of us.

A Great Prayer of Thanksgiving

We praise you God because you created the whole universe from the tiniest bugs to the largest stars.  

You created people.  Unlike all the other living things you created, you created us in your image.  You gave us the power to choose and decide.

When we made selfish choices, decided to hurt others and chose to be unfair, you did not give up on us.  Instead you sent prophets to point out what we were doing wrong and call us to do better.

When we did not listen to the prophets you came among us as Jesus.

For all these gifts we join all your creatures everywhere singing... SANCTUS

Jesus taught us about all your loving gifts to us.

Jesus showed us your love by healing people who were sick.

Jesus told us stories about how to love.

Jesus showed us how to love each other when he made friends with people no one liked.

When people got angry with him, deserted him, and finally killed him on cross, Jesus did not get even with them.  He forgave them all.


So on this day we share this bread and cup…..


U Or, focus on the phrase “the gifts of God for the people of God.”  Have the communion loaf baked in a heart shape.  (Go to Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for step by step illustrated directions for shaping a heart loaf.) Show it to the children (or all worshipers).  List all the gifts God gives us culminating with the gift of Jesus’ love and forgiveness.  Note that we remember all of these gifts, most especially the gift of Jesus every time we eat bread and drink from the cup together.  Then, practice the phrase and invite worshipers to repeat it with you.

U When I first connected phrases of the Lord’s Prayer to the texts of each Sunday of Lent this year, I suggested, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done…” for today.  After digging more deeply into the texts, “give us this day our daily bread” seems a better choice.  Start by listing all the things we need to survive.  If children are helping with this list, avoid getting into a discussion of the difference in what we want and what we need.  Allow a few “wants” to be listed, but redirect the list to things like air, water, various kinds of food, etc.  Then note that when we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we are praying for more than just bread, we are praying for everything on the list.  

U For fuller emphasis on this, create a responsive prayer in which the leader names some of the items from the list with all worshipers responding, “give us this day our daily bread.”

One:  We do need bread, God.  We need sandwich bread and muffins and pizza crust and pitas and bread sticks.

All: Give us this day our daily bread

One:  But bread is not all we need.  We need air to breathe.

All: Give us this day our daily bread

One:  We need water to drink and to wash ourselves with and to use cleaning our clothes and homes.

All: Give us this day our daily bread

     And so forth…..

U Or, point to the “we” in the phrase insisting that this is not a selfish prayer.  We pray not just that we have daily bread, but that everyone in the world has daily bread.  Connect this with one of the congregation’s efforts to make this prayer come true in a food collection or some other current sharing project. 

The Texts for Today

Isaiah 55:1-9

U The UMC worship website Lectionary Planning Helps for Sunday includes this call to worship based on Isaiah.  Make it even more visual for children by having Reader 1 pour water into the font or scoop out water for all to see and hear and having Reader 2 lift the loaf and chalice.  It already suggests that Reader 3 lift the Bible.

Reader 1 (standing at the font):
Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Reader 2 (standing at the table):
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Reader 3 (standing at the lectern holding up the lectern Bible or lectionary book):
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
The assembly:
Lord we seek you; we return to you.
Have mercy upon us.
May your word bear fruit in us
and our spirits and bodies be refreshed in your nearness.

U Both Isaiah and Paul warn against our human tendency to wish for things we do not have or cannot do.  Children often express this in phrases that begin “If only…” such as “if only I had a bicycle or the latest electronic game” or “if only I could go to camp or make the travel team…”  The unstated ending of these sentences “I’d be happy.”  After identifying a few “if onlys,” read Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (Isaiah 55:2a).  Discuss our disappointment when we get some of the things we want and they do not make us happy.  Point out the difficulty of figuring out what we really need and what we just want.  A bike can get you around the neighborhood more quickly.  But, do we have to have the latest game when we already have a bunch of them to play?  Children need to know that figuring out which of our “If onlys” are real needs will continue to be a challenge throughout life. 

U Ariel in The Little Mermaid collects stuff from the land. She loves this stuff and is obsessed by life on the land even though she is a sea dweller.  Eventually she makes the classic Faust deal selling her best gift to get what she wants.  For today focus just on the song at the beginning of the film.  I’ll post a link to the whole song and the words to the section to use in worship today.


Look at this stuff
Isn't it neat?
Wouldn't you think my collection's complete?
Wouldn't you think I'm the girl
The girl who has everything?...

But who cares?
No big deal
I want more

Psalm 63:1-8

This psalm praises God using images that do make sense to most children.  Read it for the adults.

 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

To follow Paul’s logic here the reader needs to know many details of the Exodus story.  Since most children do not, they cannot follow the text as it is read.  And, that may be just fine because if they did follow it they would likely jump to some unfortunate conclusions about what Paul was saying.  So, it is better for worship leaders to share in more child-friendly ways Paul’s message that God gives us many wonderful gifts and that it is our job to recognize, use, and enjoy them as  the gifts they are.  A discussion about “if onlys” or hearing Ariel’s song (see the Isaiah section) are better entry points.

Luke 13:1-9

U If you explore the question posed to Jesus about why bad things happen to good people, be aware that children generally do not ask the question in the same way adults do.  When horrible things happen to people around them, children ask not whether those people did something bad that resulted in this punishment, but whether they did something bad that made God punish a person near them.  Though they have trouble putting it into words they often feel something like, “Grandpa died because I did not want to skip my game last Saturday to go see him.  All this grief and pain is my fault.”  Children can hardly explore this before they feel it, so it is more helpful to prepare adults to be aware of the possibility and ready to take the question up should it arise.

U Parables are hard for children to understand.  Even middle schoolers have trouble sorting out which stories they associate with Jesus really happened and which were stories he told.  Once they do recognize a story as a parable, they have trouble figuring out what Jesus was trying to teach us.  Since the fig tree parable is hard for adults to figure out, expect it to be harder for children.  One of the simplest ways to introduce it is to compare the fruit of a fig tree and things people do.  Start with a picture of a fig tree.  Give children or all worshipers a fig newton to eat to make it more real.  Make a point that fig trees produce fruit that people (or at least some people) like to eat.  That is their job.  People take care of people and things around us.  That is our job.  List ways people do that – making dinner for the family, taking care of a younger sibling so parent can work, taking care of someone who is sick, etc.  Settling for just this entry to the story is about all we can give the children for now. 


  1. What about using the red hearts to stick on a skeleton 'fig' tree which finally, after lots of loving care, at long last produces fruit?

  2. This is a hard one. For the adults, we have taken the approach toward "pruning" - and how proper pruning/cutting away can actually make a plant more fruitful. Especially during Lent, we are encouraging folks to think about what can be "pruned" from their life. At our weekly Lent sensory station, we have branches for each person to take when they decide what they might prune from their life. NOt sure if there is a way to link this to kids easily...

    1. For some reason as I read your comment, I heard my mother demanding from another room, "Cut it out!" when my siblings and I were doing something we should not have been. I doubt children would get the connection between pruning and that admonition. But, I wonder if you could start there and urge the children to identify some of the things God might want them to cut out of their lives - name calling, jealousy, etc. They could write them on jagged scraps of paper to wad up and drop into a garbage can.

  3. Carolyn, thank you again for your brilliant blog. How about... a loving heart bears fruit... a loving heart shows its love. That leading to a discussion of 'good fruit' (with a mention of rotten fruit, too) as you mention above. So a heart for this week could have a fruit picture on it. Angela

  4. I did go with repentence/forgiveness this week! I have a backpack, and I filled it with cement bricks; each brick is covered with paper and I wrote something I feel bad about (or that kids might do that are "naughty"). I am going to let the kids try on the backpack to see how it feels when you carry all that burdening weight around with you; then, as we take out the bricks, one by one, and "give them to God," by asking for forgiveness, I am sticking a large red heart sticker onto each one, over the written item. Then, I want the kids to put the backpack on again, and see how light it is, and remind them that when we are forgiven, all that weight is released. I'm looking forward to it; the kids always enjoy an interactive "object lesson!"

    1. CS, I bet they will enjoy it. And, I'm guessing that they may "get it." The true test would be to ask a couple of them mid-week, "what did we do with a backpack in church on Sunday?" then "Why did we do that in church? or "What do you think we were to learn when we did that?" If do the test, I'd love to hear the results. In the meantime, thank you for sharing.

  5. Thanks Carolyn...I am beginning in a new pastorate tomorrow. The Luke 13 reflection got me thinking...beyond what kids could offer and do and what we do, what can I do for them, to care for them as their new minister.

  6. Excellent help, I was stumped on this one. Appreciate your insights. I'm bringing fig newtons!

  7. Brian Stoffregen comments that the fig tree's "sin" is languishing - doing nothing, NOT bearing fruit, not 'doing it's job,' as you say. Following on that & Sue & Angela's comments, I've cut hearts that have "stems" on them, & will talk about the fig tree parable & how we can 'do our job' in Jesus' name, & the good fruits we can bear. -Kris

    1. Kris, your idea led me to check out the shape of fig leaves. It would be cool for our purposes if they were heart shaped, but they are not even close. Oh well.

      My one concern with talking about hearts and fruits is that we are using not one but two symbols. That could be really hard for kid brains to process. The test would be to ask a listener midweek what you did and then why you did it? If you try it, let the rest of us know the results.


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