Saturday, October 18, 2014

Year A - Proper 28, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (November 16, 2014)


Today’s texts are not easy whether taken individually or in clusters.  Underlying all of them is a demand for action.  God cares about what we do.  Too often, especially with children, we emphasize God’s forgiving love.  It is easy for children to begin to see God as an overly indulgent grandparent who will let them get away with anything.  These texts are the balance calling children and all of us to be our best and to take risks working with God.

~  When read as early Advent texts (see The Advent Project or The "O Antiphons" for Children), they are instructions for waiting that children appreciate.  These instructions are not to sit quietly and to be patient and silent as they wait.  Instead they are to get busy, to do things for God, even take some risks to help make the world God’s world. 

~  “Take My Life” is a good partner hymn for this kind of waiting.

~  The hero/ines in these stories take risks and call children to take risks for God.  We are to follow Deborah and the first two servants rather than the people in Zephaniah who believe God would never do anything where they were or expect them to do anything. 

~  Show the clip from “Lord of the Rings, Part 1” where Sam has stopped as Frodo walks on.  Sam says if he takes another step he will be further from home than he has ever been and “who knows what will happen.”  (from Mustard Seeds)

~  Sing “We are Marching in the Light of God” to celebrate our commitment to take risks for and with God.

~  To explore bravery and taking risks, read Roller Coaster, by Marla Frazee.  In very few words and wonderful pictures it follows a rather apprehensive little girl and her father on her first ride on a roller coaster.  There is no simpler way to talk about trying something scary and finding you can do it.  Barack and the third servant needed this book.




Judges 4: 1-7

~  This is only part of a story.  To read the whole story in a child-friendly form, go to “A Mother for Israel” in The Family Story Bible or The Lectionary Story Bible -Year A, both by Ralph Milton. 
The last two italicized paragraphs before this story offer a good introduction to the period of the Judges.  Give the period even more reality by pointing to the book of Judges in the Table of Contents of the Bible – even if you then read from the storybook.

From article about Malala on Wikipedia
~  This year one of the Nobel Peace Prize winners is 17 year old Malala Yousafzai.  Children appreciate the fact that not only is she female, she is also young.  She lived in Pakistan where most girls are forbidden to go to school.  She could easily have decided she could not make a difference.  Instead she started a blog pushing for education for all children, especially for girls.  Even after someone tried to kill her, she has continued to speak up.  Show her picture.  Tell her story.  And note that like Deborah she is a leader.  God works through individual people like Deborah and Malala and us.


Psalm 123

~  The poetic images in this psalm provide a perfect example of why it is good to check several translations to find the one that will be easiest for worshipers, especially young worshipers, to understand.  Today I would choose TEV or CEV.

The NRSV states verse 2
As the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,

Today’s English Version offers the meaning of the eyes without asking the reader to figure out how servants use their eyes – which is helpful in a society with few servants and thus little knowledge of how servants use their eyes around their masters and mistresses.
As a servant depends on his master,
as a maid depends on her mistress,
so we will keep looking to you, O Lord our God,

The Contemporary English Version simplifies it further by combining both male and female servants into “servants”
   Servants look to their master,
   but we will look to you,


Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18

Zephaniah’s warning that “the Day of the Lord” which his hearers expect to be wonderful and bring them all sorts of advantages, is going to be instead a Day of Judgment and Punishment for them.  Children who hear everything literally and do not have all the background needed to hear this message and apply it to life today, are often simply frightened by this prophetic rant.  The other texts for the day explore Zephaniah’s message in terms that are easier for children to grasp. 


Psalm 90:1-8, (9-11), 12

~  Zephaniah’s people did not believe that God would act in the world around them.  The psalmist on the other hand sees God acting through all the ages and in all parts of life.  If you did not have this psalm read by readers of different ages on October 26, do so today to celebrate God’s presence in the lives of all the generations.  Enlist a child, a teenager, a young adult, a middle aged adult, an older adult and an elderly person, including readers of both sexes.  (The RCL organizers omitted verses 9-11 about God’s wrath.  I have omitted in addition verses 7 and 8 which also refer to God’s wrath because I think the concept is really difficult to present to children without frightening them or softening so much that the adults miss the point.)

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Psalm 90:1-6, 12

Reader 1:      Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    in all generations.

Reader 2:      Before the mountains were brought forth,
    or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Reader 3:      You turn us back to dust,
    and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”

Reader 4:      For a thousand years in your sight
    are like yesterday when it is past,
    or like a watch in the night.

Reader 5:      You sweep them away; they are like a dream,
    like grass that is renewed in the morning;
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.

Reader 6:      So teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart.

                                                                                                NRSV

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~  If you are keeping a seven week Advent with the “O Antiphons,” this is “O Adonai” or “O Lord” week.  It’s a good time to feature the Alpha and Omega symbols in the sanctuary or to present the Hebrew letters to explore the truth that Jesus was Lord before anything was created and will still be Lord when everything has ended.  He is Lord ALWAYS.  The children’s version of the petition is “O Come, Lord Jesus.” 

~  The hymn “Our God Our Help in Ages Past” is based on this psalm.  If you sing it, take time to point out the connection and put one or two verses into your own words.  Verse 3 about a thousand ages being like an evening to God fascinates children when it is pointed out.

~  Use this psalm praising God to invite worshipers to flip through the section of hymns praising God in your hymnal.  You could simply point out a few of those sung often in your congregation and briefly highlight a key phrase in each one.  Or, you could have a singing sermon in which you speak briefly about the message of several hymns, singing verses or whole hymns together as you go.  Some that children can sing at least parts of include:
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise
Great Is Thy Faithfulness
God, You Spin the Whirling Planets
I Sing the Mighty Power of God
There’s A Wideness in God’s Mercy


1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

~  The connection between this text and the “O Come, Lord Jesus” antiphon is that Jesus is Lord of every day of our lives and will still be Lord after we die.  Jesus is our Lord ALWAYS.  We can depend on that.

~  Verse 11 probably offers most to children.  Paul says that because they are children of light they can have hope.  They belong to God no matter what happens around them.  Given that, they can love and support each other.  A simple true example of this happened in my church school class. 

A teacher leaned in to tell a very squirmy, wiggly first grader lying next to her that she needed to do something with her feet so she would not accidently kick and hurt the girl in front of her.  That girl turned around, scooted over a little on the floor and said, “You could come sit beside me.”  The squirmer smiled, sat up straight and scooted up.  The two later worked on a craft project together.  That is the kind of encouragement Paul is talking about.

~  Go to Rumors and scroll down to find “When You Thought I Wasn’t Looking” a poem about parents encouraging their children.  You might create other tributes following the poet’s format, “When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw… and I learned.”  Encourage worshipers to create some of their own for people who are shaping their lives.  Children might use this worksheet to write or draw their own verses.



~  Before singing “God of Grace and God of Glory,” briefly identify it as a hymn the Thessalonian Christians could have sung after reading Paul’s letter.  Then point out the repeated words in the chorus and encourage young worshipers to sing them even if they can’t read all the other words. 


Matthew 25:14-30

~  The Contemporary English Version of the Bible calls the money in this parable gold coins rather than talents and provides a good reading of this text.  If you use a translation that calls the money talents, take time before the reading to remind young worshipers that a talent was a coin in Jesus day – a coin that worth a very large amount of money.  Also point out that these talents are not the abilities and skills that we call talents today.  For added emphasis, present a collection of large golden coins (check a party store for Mardi Gras coins year-round).  After defining talent, count coins into the three piles of the beginning of the parable and encourage worshipers to listen for these piles as you read.  

~  All the coming and going in this parable makes it ideal for younger children to act out during worship.  You need a minimum of four children, but can add others as the family of the master/mistress.  They will need to rehearse before worship with the reader. Costumes as simple as head scarves and head ties are grand additions for both the actors and the watching congregation.

Setting the stage:
Draw “$$$$” in green marker on 15 brown paper lunch sacks.  Pile 8 of them in one stack to one side for the master to give the servants.  Pile 5 in a second pile and 2 in a third pile.  (These could be in place at the beginning of worship or the reader could take the role of the stage manager putting props in place, briefly explaining what is in each bag, and introducing the actors before going to the lectern to read the story.)

The action:
The master (or mistress or master’s family – if you need to include more children) stands by the big pile with the servants in a line before him/her/them as verses 14-15 are read.  He/she/they give the bags to the servants, then move to the edge of the stage.

The first servant takes his/her bags to the pile of 5, adds them, stands behind the pile folding arms across chest and smiling broadly.  (verse 16)

The second adds the two talents to the pile of two and strikes the same happy pose.  (verse 17)

The third sneaks that bag off to one side, covers it with a square of brown cloth or an inverted flower pot, sits in front of it as if to hide it, folds arms over chest with a frown on his/her face.  (verse 18)

When the master/mistress/family returns…

He/she/they go to the first servant, put hands on hips and look at the servant for an explanation (verse 19).  The servant waves one hand over the big pile of bags with a smile.  The master/mistress/family shake the servant’s hand (verses 20-21). 

The process repeats with the second servant (verses 22-23). 

When the master/mistress/family comes to the third servant, that servant does not even stand, but sits scowling as verses 24-27 are read.  The master/mistress then takes the one bag (maybe dusting it off) from the third servant and gives it to the first servant (verse 28-29), then shoos the third servant off the stage (verse 30) and stands between the two servants a hand on each one’s shoulder smiling broadly.




~  If it is stewardship season, after exploring the parable offer children (or all worshipers) wrapped hard candies.  You could give them small bags of 5 each or invite them to take two from baskets of candies as they are passed up and down the pews.  One is for them to enjoy now.  The remainder is/are for them to pass to other people to let them know that you care about them.  Suggest that they might want to share a candy with someone in their family to show their love.  Or, they could watch for people who don’t often get such attention – maybe someone at school or other place they go this week.  Tell them that they are stewards of the candies and are to use them to share God’s love.  

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