In the USA it is Labor Day Weekend. Children are unaware of the Labor issues behind the day. Instead it is the last weekend of summer and the beginning of the “for real” school year. Even if they have been in classes for a week or two before Labor Day, the school year feels really underway after the holiday weekend. In many ways this is more like the New Year than January 1st is. Remember all of this in the congregation’s announcements and prayer concerns.
If children are to follow this prophecy at all they need a very brief history lesson and a dramatic reading.
u The history lesson needs to be no more than “When God’s people were slaves in Egypt, God rescued them and led them across the desert to a wonderful land that was rich and green. Unfortunately they did not settle into this new home worshiping God and following the rules God had given them. Instead they forgot about God and broke all God's rules about treating each other fairly. Listen to the Prophet Jeremiah telling them what God thinks of that.”
u To bring the psalm to life, the usual liturgist introduces the text and reads verse 4. A second reader takes over reading God’s complaint with as much drama as possible. To avoid interrupting God’s message I would omit verse 9 and “the Lord says” in verse 12
|This muddy water is tea with |
some leaves left in it.
u At its simplest, Jeremiah’s message about drinking from cracked cisterns means “Not following God’s rules is as dumb as drinking muddy water!” So display a large glass filled with muddy water and offer it to worshipers to drink. Agree with them that you would not want to drink that. Then make Jeremiah’s points about ignoring God’s laws being as dumb as drinking muddy water. You could refer to the glass repeatedly as you explore ways people today choose to drink muddy water instead of good clear water. (To avoid turning this into an object lesson present only one this one glass of muddy water. Do not add a glass of clear water making the glasses symbols of conflicting ways of living. Children can’t follow the metaphor, but do get that drinking muddy water is just dumb.)
Warning: do not use this idea if you will be focusing on the soil in the Hebrews text. That dirt is positive. This mud is negative. If used on the same Sunday they confuse children.
Psalm 81:1, 10-16
This psalm echoes Jeremiah’s prophecy. It is fine for Bible students who can get all the references to life in the wilderness. But, children do not get them. They have an easier time with Jeremiah’s form of the message.
These verses add the word pride to the gospel and epistle discussion about status. To adults it fits. But, children more often hear pride used as a good thing. “We want you to be proud of yourself.” “We were so proud of the way you did….” Rather than try to explain the different use of the word, I’d read from some of the other related texts.
This concise proverb echoes Jesus parable about taking too high a place at the table. Adults quickly catch the comparison. Children however need help seeing how standing up in the king’s court is like sitting to high at the table. Since the proverb does not add much new, I’d skip the proverb and all that explaining.
This psalm is a collection of sayings about good people. To help children hear the separate sayings, have the psalm read by a minimum of two readers so that each saying is read by a new voice. It would be possible for a class of as many as nine older children to read this. In this case the liturgist introduces them and reads the first verse. Or, a family could be the readers with each member reading several times. Do change voices for each verse.
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
u This is in many ways the preacher’s abstract presentation of the message Jesus presented in parables. Children respond more readily to the parables. It would however be possible to present this and/or Psalm 112 as pictures of a person who gets Jesus message and the Jeremiah text as a picture of a nation that did not.
u The unspoken word here and the briefly mentioned word in the gospel parables is humility. To introduce that word begin with its root word humus – or soil. Display a bucket of rich soil. Run your hands through it noting that it is just dirt, but that it is dark and rich. Things can grow in it. The Bible says that at creation God made Adam and Eve from the soil. That means every one of us is just dirt. Name some famous, laudable people noting that they are “just dirt.” Name some despicable people and insist that they are also “just dirt.” Name a couple of worshipers including yourself and say each one is “just dirt.” Suggest that knowing this helps us remember we are just dirt and helps us treat all other people we meet as just like us. Conclude that this is what it means to be humble.
This could be a children’s sermon, part of the real sermon, or the introduction to a prayer of confession in which worshipers recall ways we delude ourselves about how special we are.
Luke 14:1, 7-14
u Children will have trouble separating the two parables in this reading as it is read. To help them, present it with two readers. The liturgist introduces the text and reads verses 1, 7 and 12a. Another reader takes Jesus’ place reading the two parables.
u These parables are less about manners and more about status and pecking orders. At the beginning of the school year children face serious questions about their status as groups are assigned, teams formed and friendships circle up. Even first graders quickly realize that some of the reading and math groups are for the smarter kids and others are for slower kids. Some children struggle with the significance of being in Special Ed or Gifted and Talented classes. Then there is who is picked first and last for sports teams and who can find a good place to sit in the lunchroom or on the bus. It is easy for children to let their position in any of these pecking orders define their sense of self-worth. Jesus insists that in God's eyes everyone is worthy of coming to the party. That is both good news and a challenge to children. It is not easy to believe that you are neither as good as nor better than those who are in other groups. Jesus urges children both to remember they are always welcome at God’s table no matter what and to get to know those children in other groups and make them feel OK and welcome too.
Another example of status is the groups children are often tested into at swimming pools. The beginning swimmers are often dubbed minnows. The advanced swimmers are sharks. Discuss this noting how it feels to be a minnow or a shark. Ask whether a shark would ever consider playing with a minnow in the shallow end of the pool. Ponder together what Jesus would say to sharks and minnows in a swimming pool.
u Before singing The Servant Song point to the repeated first and last verse. Briefly connect the care of servants with the sharing that goes on at a party table where all are welcome. Note that it a good song for church members, families, and other close groups of friends to sing together. Challenge young readers to sing at least the first and last verses.
You’re Invited!u At the beginning of the sermon, maybe before reading the gospel, challenge worshipers of all ages to make a list of 5 people they would invite to a special birthday party (if they are children), to share concert tickets (if they are teenagers), or to go out to a fine dinner (if they are adults). Later in the sermon ask them to identify 2 people in their class, office of neighborhood who never get invited to anything. Urge them to imagine asking those people to their party. How would it change things at the party? What would it mean to the person invited?
If you do this remember that this message of Jesus is harder for children than it is for adults because children host so many fewer parties and have much more strictly limited guest lists.
u Yertle, the Turtle, by Dr. Seuss, tells of King Yertle the Turtle who grew dissatisfied with his throne and began insisting that he stand atop a growing tower of turtles. Max, the one at the bottom, begs for relief but is ignored by Yertle until be burped in disgust sending the whole tower into free fall and making Yertle the King of the Mud. Read it to explore the stupidity of trying to improve your position while hurting others. It can be read aloud in 6 wonderful minutes.
If you celebrate communion today, there are several ways to connect this table to the tables in Jesus’ parables:
u Highlight the usual welcome that states who is welcome at the Table. In addition to saying the words, list who is “in” including specific groups. If children do not come to the Table until a set age or come but receive a blessing instead of the elements, note this and explain why. If any will be coming to the Table for the first time day, name them and welcome them.u To explore this most fully, bring a set of photographs of very different people. As you display each one of them, ask “Is this person welcome at the Jesus’ Table?” While appreciating hesitations about some very different looking people, insist that all of them are welcome. (National Geographic is a good source of such pictures.)
u Before singing “I Come with Joy” as a communion hymn, point out the first phrase “I come with joy to meet my Lord, forgiven” noting that we each one come to the Table as forgiven sinners (i.e. we are dirt). Then read verse 2 “I come with Christians far and near…” and note that all are welcome at this Table because all are forgiven sinners (i.e. we are all dirt). No one sits higher or lower at this Table. We all gather around it together.