Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Year B - First Sunday in Lent (February 22, 2015)

For children and adults who do not attend Ash Wednesday services, this is the beginning of Lent.  So take time to define the word Lent (sounds a lot like lint, but is not), identify its purpose, point to Lenten paraments and highlight ways your congregation will keep Lent as a congregation and individuals of all ages.  If you haven’t checked out Observing Lent and Easter in Year B (2015), go there now.

If you did not bury the Alleluia on Ash Wednesday, bury it after an opening hymn featuring the word.  See Burying the "Alleluia" for Lent.

Children enjoy all today’s 40 days – 40 days of rain on the ark, Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, and the 40 days of Lent.  A well-read child might even make the connection to the 40 years in the wilderness.  Count to 40 aloud together to get a feel for how long 40 is.  Invite worshipers to remember the 40s each day of Lent and to think of everyone still on the ark and Jesus still in the wilderness on each of the days between now and Easter. 

As we settle into the 40 days of Lent the texts of Year A and C are sober and rather demanding.  The texts for Year B are basically good news.  God saves us from the flood, claims us in baptism, and is with us in the wilderness.  That is a good place to start Lent.  We are not earning God’s love with disciplines done in fear of failure.  We are responding to God’s love by being the very best disciples we can. 

One Sunday in Sunday School I said, “when Jesus was killed…” and a first grader who is a regular went wide-eyed and said in alarm “Jesus is dead?”  I quickly told her that “yes Jesus had been killed, but that God had not let him stay dead.  He is very alive – we’ll be hearing more about that as Easter comes.”  This conversation reminded me that many children have not heard or at least not caught the Passion stories.  Featuring a different cross each week during Lent is one way to help them understand the central symbol of our faith and its story.  There are several crosses and ways to explore them this week:

With the children’s help identify all the crosses in your sanctuary.  If there is a cross closely tied to your denomination or congregation, display it and explain its meaning in simple terms. 

Give each worshiper a cross trinket to carry in a pocket, a cross bookmark to use in a Bible, or a paper cross to display on a mirror or the refrigerator door during Lent.  Tell the whole crucifixion resurrection story in the briefest of terms related to today’s texts – maybe something like this…

God has kept the rainbow promise.  People have done all sorts of evil things and ruined the world in many ways.  Still, God has not destroyed the earth again.  Instead God became Jesus and came to live among us to show us how we are meant to be.  Some people got so very angry with Jesus that they killed him on a cross.  Even as he was dying on their cross, Jesus forgave them for what they were doing to him.  The day Jesus was killed was a horrible day.  Jesus’ friends thought nothing in the world ever be right again.  Then, on the third day Jesus was alive.  They saw him and talked to them.  He told them that he would always be with them and would love them and forgive them.  Every time you see or touch this cross during Lent, remember that story and God’s great, forgiving love that is with you always.

And yes, in the article about keeping Lent and Easter during Year B, I did suggest an anchor cross “for the fishing disciples” for the first week of Lent.  I have no idea why because there are no fishing disciples in today’s texts.  I didn’t even catch it when updating things for 2015.  Duh.

On the first Sunday of Lent, undertake Lenten disciplines singing “Here I Am Lord.”  If it is not familiar to your congregation, learn or practice the chorus together before singing the whole hymn.  Even non-readers can learn and sing this simple important promise to God. 

Texts for the Day

Genesis 9:8-17

Interesting fact to ponder:  This is the only time Noah’s flood story appears in the RCL.  It does appear in Year A of the Seasons of Creation lectionary.  Given that, this story that is familiar to most children is not often going to be the central text of many services, but only be given attention in relation to another text.  Too bad.

To present the whole Noah story rather than just the rainbow ending, turn to children’s literature.

Read “God Sends A Rainbow” from The Family Story Bible, by Ralph Milton. It starts after the flood and assumes knowledge of the ark story, but explains covenant and focuses on the rainbow.  (3 minutes to read aloud)

Noah’s Ark, by Peter Spier, tells the story in a poem on the first page.  The rest is all pictures.  I’d skip the poem and use some or all of the pictures to tell the story in my own words at my own speed.  Avoid the pictures of the animals left behind.  (The elephants up to their tails in water is too sad and raises questions you probably don’t want to deal with in front of the whole congregation.)  Because the pictures are so detailed, this book is best used with a small group so everyone can see.  This Caldecott Medal winner is available in many public libraries.

Noah’s Ark, by Jerry Pinkney, is a Caldecott Honor Book.  Start with the words about creation on the inside cover, then read through the next to the last page to “Noah and his family turned their faces to the sun and sang praise to God.”  (4 minutes to read aloud)  Instead of reading the last page about the rainbow (the weakest page in this fine book), announce that the story did not end there.  Go to the pulpit Bible or pull out a Bible where you are to read Genesis 9:8-17.

+   If you are going to highlight the covenants in the Old Testament readings duirng Lent  (go to Observing Lent and Easter in Year B for details) start by introducing the covenant today.  The word appears six or seven times in this passage depending on your translation.  Present it printed on a large poster to help people say and own the word before reading the story.  Invite the children to listen for the word covenant as you read from the Bible.  You could even keep count publicly with your fingers as you read.

For children a covenant is a set of shared promises.  The Bible is full of covenants between God and people.  God always promises first. Then people respond with promises.  God promises to keep God’s promise, even if we don’t keep ours.  (This impresses children who tend to think fair play is that any person - or God - should be free to break their promise if the other person in the covenant breaks theirs.) 

The rainbow promise God makes is not to destroy the world with a flood again, no matter how bad people are.  That provides a hint about what is coming in Lent and Easter.  Instead of destroying most of the world to get rid of sin, God in Jesus will forgive sin from the cross.  Even young children can appreciate that change of plan for dealing with all the bad stuff people do.

Another angle on this story that children appreciate is that God calls us to be partners in not destroying the world.  So after hearing God’s promise to take care of the world, challenge worshipers to do join God by doing something to care for the world close to you.  Possibilities: give out bags in which people can collect litter, schedule a time for church members to work together on a trail in a local park, give out information on recycling.....

 Children love rainbows!  Add a rainbow to the sanctuary for the day.

Cover the doors into the sanctuary with rainbows of crepe paper streamers.  Simply tape them in color order on a tension curtain or shower rod.  They might fall all the way to the floor or be cut in a high rainbow-y arch.

Ask a children’s class to make a large rainbow banner.  They can sponge paint or brush paint or chalk between lightly drawn penciled stripes of the rainbow on paper or blue cloth.  They might bring it in as part of the open processional or after the reading of the story. Or, it might be in place at the beginning of the service.

Braid bracelets with rainbow colored embroidery thread.  Prepare by putting one strand of each color in each of three groups and tying them at one end with a simple knot.  Give one to each child before the sermon to braid during it.  Suggest that an adult hold the knotted end while the child braids and both listen.  Urge children to wear their bracelet this week to remind themselves that God loves them and promises to be with them always – no matter how they mess up.  (Thanks to Ann at Mustard Seeds Mustard Seeds - Lent 1B for this idea!)

Even though it is the first Sunday in Lent, enjoy one of the fun songs about Noah:

Remember the camp song “Rise and Shine” that retells the whole Noah story with lots of humor.  Even if you don’t want to sing the whole song during worship, you might mention one or more of the verses.

Ask someone to sing or project the video of “It’s A Sign of God’s Love” .  Encourage worshipers to make the motions and join in on the chorus.

On a more serious note sing God of the Sparrow.  Before singing point to verse 3 and read it aloud.  (“God of the rainbow, God of the cross, God of the empty grave, How does the creature say Grace?  How does the creature say Thanks?”)  Briefly note that God saved the earth at Noah’s time and Jesus saved us by forgiving us from the cross and then rising from the grave.  For today, define “grace” as God forgiving us and “thanks” as our response to that loving forgiveness.  Having explored this verse, younger readers can sing at least this verse (though the words of all the verses are simple) and older children will both sing and begin to see the pattern in other verses as well.

Psalm 25:1-10

On the first Sunday of Lent verses 4 - 5 and/or 10 are the key to the psalm for children.  If you make a rainbow banner, add some brown foot prints under the rainbow either before or during worship.  Then read the selected segment of the psalm to celebrate living as God’s loving, good people living under the rainbow.

If you are following the LISTEN TO HIM theme for Lent  ( go to Year B Transfiguration of the Lord (2015) for details), give out the bookmarks or posters with the readings listed on them.  Reread one of the key verses to challenge to worshipers to read their way through Lent and to listen to what Jesus has to say.

1 Peter 3:18-22

Needless to say, children will not make any sense of this complex reasoning as it is read – from any translation.  Even the comparison of baptism in which people get wet with Noah who was saved from getting wet confuses children.  Fortunately, if worship is built around this text there are a few baptismal connections that children might get.

If Noah is mentioned in the prayers over the water at baptisms, read those phrases, put them into your own words, and explain what they mean when said over water to be used in baptism.

After the prayers of confession but before the assurance of pardon, pour a pitcher of water into a big bowl near a microphone.  Before praying, tell worshipers what will happen and urge them to listen and remember the water of their own baptism and even the water raining on the ark in which God kept Noah, his family and the animals safe.

+  OR, since this is the first Sunday of Lent, consider skipping this text in favor of 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 which is filled with athletic training images that help children understand Lent and Lenten disciplines.  The text appears on the sixth Sunday of Epiphany which most of us do not use this year.  Go to Year B - Sixth Sunday after Epiphany for details. 

Mark 1:9-15

Mark’s terseness is obvious here.  Three big stories (Jesus’ baptism, his 40 days in the wilderness and his start into his ministry) are reduced to a few phrases each.  Children can easily miss them all in the general jumble.    So…

Have a different reader for each mini-story.  The three stand in a row and read in turn. 

If there are three confirmands in the congregation, ask them to be the readers.  Comment or preach about the three parts of “Jesus getting his start” standing behind each of the readers in turn.  Connect his start with your congregation’s confirmation plan and with all of us stepping into Lent.

If you are going to follow “Jesus” around the sanctuary during Lent (Follow "Jesus" Through Lent - Year B), place him at the baptismal font before reading verses 9-11.  Turn him to face the Table to read vss. 12-13, then turn him to face the congregation before reading vss. 14-15.  Leave him front and center, facing the congregation for the remainder of the service.  Your movements will separate and highlight the three separate but related stories.

Save the wilderness story for Year A or C in which Matthew and Luke tell detailed interesting stories.

Read Mark 1:4-11 to explore Jesus' baptism more fully  - unless you read it last week.  Go to Year B - Baptism of the Lord for suggestions about the text.  Or, place “Jesus” near the baptismal font and invite worshipers to dip their fingers in the water to remember that like Jesus they are baptized and called.  (A good beginning for Lent especially for those who missed Ash Wednesday.)  

+  Mark’s terse account of Jesus’ time in the wilderness points to the cross.  Jesus’ life and ministry are not going to be easy, but will require that he be brave and strong.  Read Tale of Three Trees, retold by Angela Elwell Hunt, to explore how three trees discovered the same thing.  Each wished for something important and was going to get what they wished for, but it was going to come in a different way than they imagined and would involve some suffering.  Discipleship is like that.  It takes a full 5 minutes to read this book aloud, but when paired with giving out crosses to carry through Lent is a powerful beginning to Lent for both children and adults.

“Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

To highlight this Lord’s Prayer phrase read vs 15.  Note that Jesus was making God’s kingdom come every day everywhere he went AND that Jesus calls us to do the same.  Give worshipers a small poster with this phrase printed on it to post on their refrigerator door, mirror, or other place they will see it often.  Challenge them to think each day about where they see God’s kingdom coming around them.  Even, create a responsive prayer in which a worship leader offers prayer about specific places God’s kingdom is coming or is needed and the congregation responds with “Thy kingdom come….”

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