Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Year C - Proper 11, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 9th Sunday after Pentecost (July 21, 2013)

Amos 8:1-12

n Consequences are important here and in the gospel story about Mary and Martha.  It is hard for children and even teenagers to learn to identify, before they act, the probable consequences of their actions.  Even when they can identify a possible problem that will result from their action, it is easy for them to hope that it really won’t happen that way to me this time, i.e. “I’ll get away with it.”  Here Amos insists that people are doing terrible things, that God knows what they are doing and that there will be consequences.  Children will not recognize the bad things people are doing as the passage is read.  But with a little help they will find them quite familiar.  People were cheating each other.  The big and powerful were not being fair to the less powerful people.  (Think the older kid saying to the younger one, “Look we have two cookies.  Here is one for you – the littler one – and one for me –the bigger one.”)  The message to children is that God DOES care about what we do and that there will be consequences when we break God’s rules.  Though we may think we will get away with what we do, we will not.

n To help children grasp Amos’ talk about cheating using false measures prepare two bags of produce or flour.  Mark each one with the same weight, but put a little less than that amount in one bag.  After presenting the two bags claiming they are the same weight, weigh each bag on a scale.  With questions such as “how would you feel if you bought this (the smaller) bag?” help worshipers identify the unfairness involved.  Then read Amos 8:5b making clear Amos’ message that people were sitting in church thinking of ways to cheat each other – and that God knew and was not pleased.

Sorry, no over ripe bananas
 at my house today.

n To explore Amos’ image of summer fruit, display one green, one yellow and one really over ripe banana.  Talk about which you want to eat and what is done with over ripe fruit.  Then, make Amos’ point that all the people were like overripe fruit.  They were greedy, selfish, and generally no good.  So God was going to throw them out.  Note that actually what God did was sent them away as prisoners of war.  During their time living in the foreign country, they had time to think about how God wanted them to live.  It was like a really big time out.

Replace the usual flower arrangements with bowls of seasonal fruits and vegetables.  These can be beautiful as a contrasts to the over ripe fruit you display and explore.

Psalm 52

This psalm is an angry rant.  It is included here as a partner to Amos’ warnings.  If you want to explore it, there needs to be some serious explanations.

L  Tell in your own words the backstory of Doeg from 1 Samuel 21-22.  Imagine how David felt. Then read the psalm from TEV or CEV.

L  Rather than tell the Doeg story, make a list of people who use their power to get what they want even when it hurts others - bully, big shot, tycoon, villain, etc.  Then read the psalmist’s prayer about people like that.

L  Identify childhood activities that parallel those of the villain of this psalm – telling secrets that will get others in trouble, cheating at games, going along with a bully, tattling, using being the biggest or oldest to get what you want.

Actually, I would downplay this psalm or use Psalm 15 rather than try to explain all this meaningfully to children.

Genesis 18:1-10a

JJJ  Children are fascinated by God’s appearing not as a single thing or person, but as a group of people.  God visited Abraham and Sarah as a group of travelers.  List some of the ways God appeared - fire in the burning bush or in the contest on Mt Carmel, the sheer silence in the cave, a wrestler with Jacob, a dove at Jesus’ baptism, etc.  Though it would be off the intent of the story, this could be the beginning of a sermon about where we meet/see God.

JJ  The story is included in the lectionary to echo the gospel hospitality theme.  As Mary and Martha welcomed Jesus, Abraham and Sarah welcomed three travelers.  During the summer many people have opportunities to both extend and receive hospitality. 

JJ  When Abraham and Sarah saw three travelers coming, they welcomed them and fed them.  Especially during the summer, many poor people are on the road.  Some end up begging at intersections.  Some congregations put together welcome kits that members can put into the hands of these people.  The kits include a gift card to a fast food place, bus tokens/passes, lists of places where they can get services they might need, and a greeting maybe a child drawn card, all in a zip-able plastic bag.  Describe these kits during worship and invite households to assemble some to distribute as they encounter visitors during the week.  Provide the pieces either free or ask families to pay for the components of each kit they take.


JJ  If You Give A Mouse a Cookie, If You Give a Moose a Muffin, or any of the other books in the If You Give A… Series are favorite stories about hospitality.  Read one and talk about how one thing leads to another when you extend hospitality, but that in the process you usually have fun.  Or, read one then turn the Abraham and Sarah story into another one. 

When three travelers walked by Abraham knew they would be hot and thirsty, so he gave invited to sit in the shade with him and gave them water to drink.  The water was wonderful and cool, but it reminded them that they had not had anything to eat all day.  So Abraham called to Sarah.  Sarah baked them a fine loaf of bread with her best flour.  But what is bread without meat?  So, Sarah had her servants roast a fat calf.  It was a perfect meal.  The travelers sat back in the shade with their full tummies and sighed.  Then they said to Abraham, “You and Sarah are wonderful hosts.  By this time next year you will have a baby boy who will keep you as busy as we have.”  Sarah laughed and Abraham laughed and the travelers laughed.  In a year when Sarah gave birth to a baby boy, she named him Isaac which means Laughter.  And Abraham laughed.  And Sarah laughed and the travelers in some far away land walked down the road and laughed too.

JJ  Celebrate the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah with Always Room for One More, by Sorche Nic Leodhas, which tells the story of a family that invites in every traveler who passes their small highlands house.  When their house exploded because it was filled with so many singing dancing people taken in on a stormy night, all their guests simply helped them build a bigger house so there would be more room for more guests.  The book is written with lots of scots words and in rhyme.  If you or someone in the congregation is comfortable reading in this dialect, the story will be a special mid-summer celebration of hospitality.

J  Continue reading through verse 15 and add Genesis 21:1-7 to complete the story of the announcement of Isaac’s coming birth and his birth.  The only other place this story appears in the RCL is Proper 6 of Year A which is bypassed many years due to the date of Easter.  So consider worshiping around the whole story of the announcement of Isaac’s birth and the birth. 

Focus on the laughter.  Demonstrate and ponder many different ways Sarah might have laughed, e.g. a disbelieving “HA, HA” or a that is so weird “tee, hee, hee” titter and the happy surprised laughter when Isaac is born.  Talk about when and how we laugh today.  Create a prayer or reading about things that would make us laugh like Sarah did at Isaac’s birth.  Or, get worshipers to help make that list.  The congregation’s response is “God has made me laugh. Now everyone will laugh with me.” (CEV)

Focus on the surprise.  List lots of surprises God brought people, e.g. the Red Sea opening up before the fleeing slaves, Jesus’ healing, Saul’s change from persecutor to leader of the early church, etc.  Add Abraham and Sarah's surprise baby.  Even children find hope for today’s situations that really could use God surprises in these biblical stories of surprises.

Psalm 15

Of the two psalms for today, I’d definitely choose this one.  It speaks of the “good people” rather than rant at the “bad people.”  When read from the CEV it can be understood by worshipers of all ages.

Colossians 1:15-28

U  This is a very complicated old hymn that Paul was both quoting and editing as he went to make a point.  The cosmology is intricate and beyond the understanding of children and many adults.  But, it does offer a chance for the brave preacher/ children’s time leader to have a discussion with the children about who Jesus is.   One could begin by asking “Who is Jesus?”  Collect answers from worshipers.  Note that Jesus is all of this and more.  Then introduce four things about Jesus that Paul knew about Jesus.

U Who is Jesus according to Paul?  In language that makes sense to children Paul says
  1. Jesus is God in human skin – that is what we mean when we call Jesus God’s Son.  If you want to know what God is like and what God does, look at Jesus and what Jesus does.  “He who has seen me, has seen the Father.”
  2. Jesus is part of God.  Jesus was there at creation of the universe and will be there after the universe is over.
  3. Jesus is the head of the church.  At beginning of communion in my church the host reminds everyone, “This is not my table or your table.  It is not the Westminster Church’s table.  It is Jesus’ table and all who….are welcome.”
  4. Jesus’ big job is to bring people closer to God and to each other. 

U  Children often think Jesus is a first name and Christ is a second name.  To straighten them out, present Jesus as an everyday earthly name, the name Mary used when she called Jesus to supper, the name his friends called him all his life.  Present Christ as a special title that says that Jesus is a lot more than just another good person.  Use Paul’s four points about who Jesus is to explore what it means to be “the Christ”.  Use the name Jesus Christ throughout worship today.  Even introduce the term at the beginning of worship and challenge worshipers to count the number of times you sing, say or pray the name Jesus Christ as you worship.  Fill your pockets with hard candies to give to all who come out of the sanctuary with a reasonably good guess at the number.

U  Devote the whole service to praising Christ and exploring who Christ is. 

A postcard from a 1974 trip

Zurbarán, Francisco, 1598-1664.
Crucifixion, from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library,  Nashville, TN.
[retrieved July 3, 2013]. Original source:
During songs and/or readings of scriptures, project a variety of pictures of Christ.  At some point, talk your way through the pictures briefly explaining what each says about who Jesus is.  This could be done with the children just before singing a hymn during which they will all be projected.  Or, it could be the outline for the whole sermon.

Turn the section of Apostles’ Creed (or another creed) into a responsive reading by adding the congregational response “We praise you, O Christ!” in response to each line.

Sing child friendly hymns that praise Christ:

“When Morning Gilds the Skies” with its repeated refrain, “May Jesus Christ be praised!”

“Alleluia, Alleluia! Give Thanks” with lots of alleluias and easy verses about Jesus Christ

 “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today!” which tells Christ’s Easter story with lots of alleluias.

“Lord of the Dance” which tells the story of Jesus’ life in simple language

Luke 10:38-42

JL  This story is the ultimate short story – only four verses tell the whole event.  It is so short that it can be read before listeners start paying attention.  So, it is worth giving careful attention to its presentation.  At the very least have it read by a woman.  Or, better, ask 3 adults (2 women and 1 man) to pantomime the story as a fourth reads it.  Rehearse with them to get them to communicate what their character is saying and thinking with their faces and bodies.  Their body language and facial expressions as the conversation unfolds will communicate more of the story to the children than the words will. 

JL  This sibling fuss appeals to children who participate in such fusses.  It is reassuring to children to know that such stories make it into the Bible.  It is also satisfying that the aggressive sister is called off – especially to those deal with more aggressive siblings at home.  None of this has any particular gospel message in it for children, but is a Jesus story they enjoy hearing and knowing.

n This is also a story about choices and consequences, about which children hear a lot.  With them identify the choices Martha and Mary made about what to do when Jesus showed up at their house.  Maybe list some other things they might have chosen to do like hide, sing for Jesus, or play a game with him.  Emphasize the fact that each made a free choice.  Then identify the consequences of each of their choices.  Pay special attention to Martha on this.  This is not Luke’s point in telling this story, but it is a message that children can appreciate.  When we make choices, we have to take the consequences.  Martha chose to fix a dinner, so she missed out on sitting to talk with Jesus and Mary.  That was her choice and its consequence.  Jesus is also clear that some choices are better than others.  Mary made the better choice.  It would also be a little moralistic, but possible, to explore the choices we make when Sunday morning comes around and we have to decide whether we will go to church and how we will participate in activities there.

JJ  Sharing M&Ms to eat while talking about this story is really tempting.  Getting the message right may be challenging. 

One possibility is simply to pass out the candies in honor of the two sisters whose names both started with M and who loved each other, but like most sisters did not always get along.  Then read the story.

A more complicated possibility I’ve heard about is to note that M&Ms come in all sorts of different colors, but are the same chocolate inside.  People are the same.  That means that people in families, classes, churches, even the kids at the pool come with many different outsides, but the same insides.  The trick is to enjoy each one as he or she is and to be content being who we are.  That is both a little simplistic and too object lessony for many children to grasp, but it might work. 

Anyone got another way to work with the candy????


  1. Have children close eyes and place a candy in hand of each. Ask them to put candy in mouth. After ask what color they had. All colors taste the same. Sometimes our choices do not matter. Even the outside is the same, though different color.

  2. Years ago when I was a kid at summer camp, the cooks fixed pancakes of many different colors for older children one morning. When the children refused to eat the green and blue ones, the cooks set out to prove that all the colors tasted the same by blindfolding volunteers to taste several different color pancakes. Even though the volunteers could not taste the difference, none of the children would eat the green and blue pancakes. I mention this because it still makes me laugh today and because you might run into similarly insistent children when it comes to colored candies.

    Also, in the Mary and Martha story, Jesus said it DID matter what each sister chose. So be careful that you don't tell the children one thing with scripture and another with candy.

  3. Nothing to do with Mary & Martha ... but I've used this for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity ... gave each denomination a colour and then did what Anonymous suggested ... have the children close their eyes and see if they could guess which "denomination" they were eating! We're all the same under our names, we're all children of God. I love the pancakes! Can do that by having all the ingredients for a chocolate chip cookie ... have them taste each ingredient (except the egg due to salmonella). Usually the kids don't like most of the ingredients on their own, but when you put it all together, WOW, yummy cookie. We need each other to work together for Jesus, 'cause when we do ... WOW ... amazing things happen!
    Evelyn McLachlan, King City United Church, King City, Ontario, Canada

    1. AHA! I think the M&Ms or the cookies actually work better in Week of Christian Unity situations or themes than with the Mary and Martha story. Now if we can remember it when those times come up.

  4. I'm going w/distractions...Martha was doing what culture imposed on her and could've been jealous that Mary 'chose' to be with Jesus...and then Jesus invites Martha hear that she is loved as well.

  5. I always check your site for ideas and usually incorporate one! Thank you for sharing such wonderful resources!

    I just announced to the congregation that I will be leaving. I was wondering if you had any suggestions when talking with children?

    Thank you for everything! Elaina

    1. Elaina, Sorry this is a week late getting on line. For some reason I just found it. But, God's speed on your move. As for talking with the children... If you have been there for many years at all there will be many children who remember no minister but you. You help them when you set yourself in the line of ministers recalling some of the different things each did. (If there are pictures of past ministers, bring one or two with you for this.) Tell some of the things you remember of what you did with them. Then wonder together what the next minister will do. When you do this you both introduce them to the idea that a progression of ministers is a good thing and give them permission to love the next one without feeling they are being untrue to you.
      Anyone else have other suggestions?

  6. I've been thinking about Stephen Covey's "Is the jar full?" illustration in his Seven Habits book. Choices, consequences and needful things.


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