Thursday, August 7, 2014

Year A - Proper 17, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, 12th Sunday after Pentecost (August 31, 2014)

Starting today for the next 7 weeks you will find suggestions for highlighting one phrase from the Lord’s Prayer each week.  The phrases are not in the order of the prayer, but could become a bit of a series.  Go to Lord's Prayer Series to explore the possibility of such a series in more detail. 

Exodus 3:1-15

> Before reading this story remind worshipers of last week’s story about the baby Moses.  Briefly note that Moses grew up in the palace, got a great education, but knew all the time he was a Hebrew.  One day when he had grown up he killed a guard who was beating a Hebrew slave and so had to run away into the desert.  That is where Moses had been for years when today’s story happened.

> This text is mainly a conversation between God and Moses.  It can easily be turned into a script for two people to read, but the result lacks the needed sense of awe and mystery.  The animated film “Moses, Prince of Egypt” adds that in a way that worshipers of all ages appreciate.  So, read the biblical account, then show the film version.  Take time to identify what the artists got right in your opinion and what you would have done differently.  In informal settings, invite worshipers of all ages to share their ideas about this.

> After reading the story and maybe viewing the animated version above, challenge young worshipers to draw their own pictures of God speaking to Moses from the burning bush.  Ask to see them as children leave the sanctuary or invite them to post them on a bulletin board or tape them to the rail at the front.  You could even publish a burning bush gallery of their art on a page in the newsletter or on the church’s website.

> In response to Moses’ encounter with God in a burning bush, highlight some of the flames used by the church to remind us of God’s presence.

> After exploring the story, light a short pillar candle or a candle in a clear container on the Moses display (see Moses Display)   Light this candle every Sunday during the Exodus readings either as the other candles in the sanctuary are lit at the beginning of the service or just before the Exodus reading for the day.

> Bring out all the candles used in worship during the year – the Advent wreath, the Christ candle, the table candles , baptismal candles, even a little candle in a holder from annual candle lighting service.  Light each one as you talk about what it means summarizing that we use all these candles to remind us of God’s presence with us.  Then connect the candles to the bush that burned but did not burn up.  This could be done as the call to worship or just before the reading of the Exodus text.

> If a flame appears in your congregation’s or denomination’s logo, point it out and explain its significance as a statement about God’s presence with you.  Print it in your worship handout for all to see close up.  Point out the logo anywhere it appears around your building.

> There are several ways to explore the name of God – I AM WHO I AM, I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.  At the heart of all of them is the fact that God is always more than we understand or know. 

>Children enjoy telling things they know about God and adding “and more” to each description, e.g. God was here before anything else and will be here after everything – and more.  With encouragement they can also collect used-to-thinks about God.  For example, “I used to think God was an old man.  Now I think God is both man and woman – and more.”

>Read only the first part of Old Turtle, by Douglas Wood.  This is an argument between all the animals about what God is like.  Old Turtle finally speaks up to tell them they are all correct.  It ends “God IS.”  (This part of the book can be read dramatically with or without the pictures in about 4 minutes.) 

>This is a good opportunity to enjoy all the bigger-than-we-can-understand words describing God in “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise.”  Before singing it put one or two phrases into your own words and point out the beginning of the first verse “Immortal, invisible, God only wise, In light inaccessible hid from our eyes” and the last phrase of the last verse, “’Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee!”

“Hallowed be Thy name…”
>After exploring God’s name I AM, remind people of the line “Hallowed be Thy name” in the Lord’s Prayer.  List other words that mean the same thing as “hallowed” – holy, awesome, blessed.  Then share a litany praising God who is the great IAM with a leader stating a series awesome things about God and the congregation responding to each one, “Hallowed be Thy name.”  The lines below might get you started.

God, before anything existed, you existed.
You created the whole universe from the largest stars to the smallest bugs.

You created each one of us and know us by name.

When we mess up (as we often do) you still love us.  You call us back to right ways.  You forgive us.

You came to live among us as Jesus of Nazareth showing us what we were meant to be and forgiving us when we crucified you.

You raised Jesus from death and proved that your power is greater than any other power in the world.

Read or tell parts of The First Thing My Mama Told Me, by Susan Marie Swanson.  The first thing her mother told Lucy was her name.  The book is simply a collection of ways she celebrated her name at different ages of her childhood.  Share some of them as a way of talking about how important names are to us.  From there talk about God’s name and the phrase “Hallowed be Thy name” in the Lord’s Prayer.

> Children need adult help to explore Moses’ response to God’s call.  Retell the story to highlight the fact that Moses said no at first, to identify his excuses, to hear how God stuck with him until Moses finally said yes.  Point out that God had been preparing Moses for this job since Moses was born.  He was born into a family that worked hard to save him from pharaoh, he got a great education in the palace school, and learned how the pharaoh did things.  Suggest to the children that God is preparing each of them for tasks too.  Urge them to stick with their work and to pay attention.

Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45b

This reading includes opening praises followed by an account of God’s people in Egypt and a final call to praise God for this activity.   The praises can be read responsively by either the choir or a liturgist and the congregation or by two halves of the congregation.  It will set the story verses off if they are read by a new voice. 


Psalm 105: 1-6, 23-26, 45b

Leader: O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
      make known his deeds among the peoples.
All:         Sing to him, sing praises to him;
         tell of all his wonderful works.
Leader: Glory in his holy name;
         let the hearts of those who seek the Lord 
All:         Seek the Lord and his strength;
     seek his presence continually.
Leader: Remember the wonderful works he has done,
         his miracles, 
         and the judgments he has uttered,
All:         O offspring of his servant Abraham,
        children of Jacob, his chosen ones.
Reader: Then Israel came to Egypt;
   Jacob lived as an alien in the land of Ham.
     And the Lord made his people very fruitful,
      and made them stronger than their foes,
         whose hearts he then turned to hate 
               his people,
            to deal craftily with his servants.
     He sent his servant Moses,
        and Aaron whom he had chosen.
         All:       Praise the Lord!

                           New Revised Standard Version


Jeremiah 15:15-21 and Psalm 26:1-8

As I have worked through the lectionary texts a second time, I really have tried to offer something about each one.  But there are a few that I simply don’t see reading with children.  These are among them.  They carry an abstract message in complex vocabulary and ideas.  Even with the adults they are most likely to be read as support for the gospel or epistle.  So, I would focus on the primary texts with the children.  They may hear a meaningful phrase here and there in these texts.

Romans 12:9-21

> The items on Paul’s to do list for Christians are appropriate for children but the list is too long and wordy to keep their attention.  They need a streamlined child’s version.  Below is my attempt at it in short phrases and in single words on a poster.  Give each child a small poster (maybe with magnetic tape on the back so it can be put on the refrigerator door?).  Walk through it using the phrases to embellish the single words.  Admit that doing all these things is not easy.  The reason doing them is so hard is that they require us to think about other people and their wants and needs rather than just our own wants and needs.  That is why they are on a cross – because when we pay attention to others we are being like Jesus.  Give the posters out just before the reading of the text.  Encourage children to decorate their poster while they listen to the sermon and to find a place to hang it or stuff it where they will see it often.

Love one another.
Do not think you are way smart and way better than others.
Forget about getting even.
Treat with respect everyone you meet.
Be kind - even to those who are not kind to you.
Pay attention to the feelings of others.  Care about them.

Matthew 16:21-28

> If school has been in session for even a few days, ask children to raise their hand if they got even one answer wrong this week.  It may take a little humor to tease this out.  Ask the adults how many of them got something wrong during the last week.  After affirming that in spite of our best efforts and intentions we all mess up, recall Peter’s conversation with Jesus from last week.  Celebrate how well he had answered Jesus’ question.  Then with a hint that Peter will not continue to be a superstar, read today’s gospel.

> Peter messed up by refusing to believe that Jesus would have to suffer.  He wanted Jesus (and all God’s people) to always be the winner and the great good king.  He did not want to think about anything bad happening to him.  Children do well to simply hear that Peter did not realize that there would be suffering for Jesus.  That was his mistake.  The larger questions about Jesus’ suffering that adults want to explore are way beyond the children. 

For children, Jesus’ call to take up our crosses connects more easily to either Paul’s To Do list for Christians or Moses answering his call from God than to Jeremiah’s insistence that God’s people will have to endure suffering. 

> It’s a good time to highlight frequently-used phrases from a traditional prayer of confession. 

Almighty and merciful God,
We have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep.
We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.
We have offended against you holy laws.
We have left undone those things which we ought to have done;
And we have done those things which we ought not to have done.

I’d skip over the sheep image and go straight to the list of ways we mess up.  Put each one in your own words.  This could be done with the whole congregation or as a children’s time just before the Prayers of Confession.  Conclude your conversation with reference to the assurance of pardon to emphasize that God forgives no matter how many ways we mess up.

> Jesus told Peter that not only would Jesus have to do some hard suffering things, but that Peter should expect the same for himself.  We as disciples should also expect to have to do some hard suffering things in order to live like Jesus.  There is no cute way to say this to children.  But, we can and should talk with them about that reality.  They need to hear that being a follower of Jesus is not always fun.  God’s people are called to be brave and strong and to “take it” or “suck it up” when needed. 

Point out that when Jesus says “take up your cross” he is not telling us not to whine and complain about the hard stuff and bad stuff that happens to us.  He is telling us to look around us, see the needs of others and work to take care of them.  Give children a large cross shape to color or a wooden cross to polish with a small piece of cloth that has been dipped in linseed oil during the sermon.  Urge them to put that cross where it will remind them to take up their cross and follow Jesus taking care of others.

> If school will begin this week, go to Back to School - 2013 for more general ideas about including this important event in worship.

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