The Lent Themes for Today
+ Today’s featured cross may be the metal crosses on communion ware or the verbal ones in the communion liturgy. Or, it may be cross stickers reminding wearers to take up their crosses to follow Jesus.
+ God’s Covenant with Abraham and Sarah draws us into a big family - and may require star or heart stickers.
+ If you are Following Jesus around the Sanctuary during Lent, there are several places for him to appear today.
Place “Jesus” near a visible cross in your sanctuary. With worshipers identify all the other crosses you can find in the room. Then talk about what Jesus meant when he said, “take up your cross and follow me.”
To tie to the covenant with Abraham and Sarah, place Jesus near a globe and talk about all the places your congregation is being a blessing to people and/or pray for people all around the world.
Or, if you will be celebrating communion place “Jesus” on or around the Communion table.
If you read the Transfiguration story today, place Jesus in a high spot covered with the shiny translucent fabric that will cover him on Easter. This gives us just a distant glimpse of who Jesus really is.
+ There are lots of sticker possibilities today. One could stick stars on worshipers to remind them that they are members of God’s big family OR stick hearts on worshipers to remind them that God doesn’t love them because of what they do but just because God loves them OR stick crosses on worshipers to call them to take up their crosses. One could even put a heart on the back of one hand and a cross on the back of the other hand of each worshiper urging them all to live, work, and pray using both hands.
Texts for Today
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
|I found this image googling NASA starry night.|
+ Many children today have little experience with sitting under starry skies. There is just too much light. But, they do have a keener sense of our place in a universe of stars than earlier children had. So before reading this story, have a brief starry night experience. Project pictures like this one that give a sense of the vastness of the universe and the numbers of the stars. Hubble Telescope and NASA post lots of star pictures that as far as I can tell are not coyrighted.
+ Have this text read by the oldest member or by the oldest man (vss 1-7) and oldest woman (vss 15-16) in the congregation. If needed take a Bible and microphone to him/her/them in the pews so that they can read from there. If you had a boy read the story of Samuel a few weeks ago, ask that boy to come forward. Recall God’s call to Samuel while he was a young boy. Then call the elder/s forward or send the boy to hold the microphone for them as they read about God’s call to some very old people. Thank all three of them and send them back to their seats. This sets you up to explore God’s call to us at all ages of our lives.
+ This is the second covenant for Lent. (Recall what a covenant is by bringing out the word poster from last week.) In today’s covenant God promises Abraham and Sarah that they will be parents of a great family that will actually grow into many nations. For children the promise is that we will always be part of a family or community. We will not be on our own. Point out some of the ways the church is a family welcoming babies, telling and celebrating the stories, taking care of each other when life gets hard (casseroles, visits, driving help, and other specifics make this real), being with us and our families when we die. God promises this big family is always there for us. The only way we can end up totally alone is to choose not to participate.
+ After reading and discussing the story, place a star sticker on the back of hand or forehead of each child (or all worshipers) telling them that they are descendants of Abraham and Sarah and members of God’s big family. (If children get their stickers during a children’s time, give them several more stickers to put on the hands or foreheads of people sitting near them as they go back to the pews. Be ready to offer more, so that all worshipers get a star sticker.)
+ Display a crescent with star symbol for Islam, a star of David symbol for Judaism, and a star over the stable picture for Christianity. Briefly explain that all three faiths tell the story about Abraham and Sarah and are their descendants. With all our disagreements and differences we are part of one family.
+ If you are placing star stickers on worshipers, show pictures of the buildings of other Abrahamic faiths in your town and place a star sticker on each picture.
+ Whoever You Are, by Mem Fox, insists that people with all their differences are really alike all around the world. They may be different colors, eat different food, go to different schools, and live in different houses, but inside their hearts are just like yours. The Storypath blog says, “Often when we read the covenant story we focus on the miraculous blessing God gives in the midst of our skepticism and even laughter. This unique twist helps us to focus on the story’s aspect of many from one and all being God’s children through promise, even when we may live different lives.” For focus you could read only the first section of pages about the differences in people all around the world. Conclude with “But inside their hearts are just like yours, whoever they are, wherever they are, all over the world.”
+ Place the “Jesus” figure near a globe. Pray together for people in different parts of the world who are members of the family of Abraham and Sarah. Or, point out and pray for places your congregation is working to be a blessing to the people who live there. Specific details bring these prayers to life for the children.
If you are encouraging worshipers to PRAY EVERY DAY during Lent, challenge them this week to pray each day for people in another part of the world.
+ Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct, by Mo Willems, tells of a loving dinosaur who bakes cookies for everyone and is generally happy and loved. Reginald Von Hoobie-Doobie, however, insists to everyone that she is extinct. No one will listen to him – except gentle kind Edwina, who hears him out and says he is right, but simply doesn’t care. The two leave together to bake more cookies. This might be the beginning of a sermon about faith. Abraham and Sarah should have known they couldn’t have a baby at 100. And, we should know that God can’t change this world into a kingdom of peace and love. Some people say the church is extinct – but…. Abraham, Sarah, and we move on in faith. From this light hearted start, a preacher could delve into more complicated concerns. But it is one good starting place. (Reading time: a minimum of 4 minutes, but probably a bit longer because some of the pictures have no words but do tell part of the story.)
+ “The God of Abraham Praise” is an obvious hymn choice for this week. Unfortunately, children are quickly lost in its unfamiliar, big words used to state reasons for praise in rather complex ways.
+ Verses 27-31 provide a worship education opportunity. Read the verses stopping as you go to put into your own words who will praise the Lord (all the families of all the nations living on the earth today, those who have died, generations yet to be born). Then, point out that during the prayers before communion we re-enact praising God with all those people. If you follow a prayer book, point out
“We praise you, joining our voices with the heavenly choirs and with all the faithful of every time and place, who forever sing to the glory of your name:”
Then practice the song or spoken chorus your congregation will use this morning. Urge worshipers to listen for the phrase and to imagine themselves singing with all people who have ever praised God, praise God today, and will praise God in the future. (This could be done as a children’s moment just before the sacrament or be imbedded in the sermon – even the practicing!)
Romans 4:13-25 or 8:31-39
+ There are two big words GRACE and FAITH that preachers tend to use in combination in single sentences while unpacking this text. Both are complex, abstract theological concepts and are hard for children to understand. Help them by picking one to define and use today. (You’ll have opportunities to use the other later.)
If you choose grace, remember that to children grace is first a girl’s name, the prayer said before eating, or the ability to move beautifully. You will have to introduce the biblical definition of grace as God’s love as a free gift with no strings attached. Give worshipers a reminder of this love by putting heart sticker on the back of their hand. If you do this during a children’s time, you can personally stick a heart on each child’s hand saying “God loves you” as you do. However, it is more effective if the hearts are passed out to everyone in the congregation and worshipers are asked to put a sticker on a neighbor’s hand saying the words “God loves you.”
If you choose faith, remember Edwina the dinosaur described under the Genesis text. Edwina’s faith was not so much a matter of what she thought or believed, it was simply the way she chose to live. She lived like she was loved and had the ability to love and care for everyone around her. Abraham and Sarah tried to live that way. Paul calls us to do the same.
+ The Episcopalian and Roman Catholic lectionaries set Romans 8:31-39 with its insistence “that nothing can separate us from the love of God, neither……” It is a good balance to Mark’s call to carry our crosses.
+ Because children think literally, they need help with Jesus’ call to take up our cross and follow him. Cross jewelry and cross tattoos are good discussion starters. Wearing them is one way of saying that I am a Christian. But, simply wearing them, doesn’t make me a Christian. I have to live like Jesus. I have to love God every day and love the people around me even when it gets hard.
+ Give children wooden crosses to polish with small rags that have been dipped in linseed oil. (Call on a wood working member to cut the crosses. Give crosses and the oil-dipped rags to children in plastic bags.) Invite them to polish their cross while listening to the sermon. Urge them to display the cross somewhere they will see it often for the rest of Lent as a reminder to take up their crosses every day.
+ For older children Harry Potter and Voldemort are the most familiar examples of giving up your life. Voldemort kills others in an attempt to gain everlasting life and power for himself. He ultimately fails and is killed by his own killer curse. Harry Potter on the other hand, willingly dies in order to save the lives of his friends. His love saves him and he lives. Go to Harry Potter and the July Worship Planner for more details and/or read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book in the series in which the final confrontation between the two takes place.
+ After recalling that it was Valentine’s Day last month and that we celebrated love with cards, candy, and flowers, offer each worshiper a cross sticker pointing out that love is not always sweet and easy. Jesus loved us so much that he was willing to be whipped and killed on a cross. Jesus also calls us to love each other even when it is not easy. It is one thing to give your brother a valentine card and another to give up playing your video game to play his stupid little kid board game. This could be done just before the Eucharist. Or, it could be done during the offering time with some ushers passing plates to collect our money love gifts and others (maybe a children’s class) passing out the cross stickers reminding us to love God and others even when it hurts.
+ Place the Jesus figure in front of Communion Table facing the congregation. Just before celebrating the sacrament, stand by the figure to and note that Jesus is the host at this Table. It is his Table and he invites us to eat at it. Keep it simple and stop there or add comments based on the next two suggestions.
+ If you serve communion to people in their pews, there is often a cross on the lid of each stack of cup trays. Point to that cross or lift one of the lids to display it to the whole congregation. (This could be the cross of the day.) Briefly recite what is said about what is in those cups – the blood of Christ – and what is actually in those cups – wine or grape juice. Briefly explain that there is nothing magic about what is in the cups. We drink it to remember that God loved us enough to get beat up and killed on a cross for us.
Barbara Brown Taylor tells of a polite six year old at the altar rail who responded to her priest’s words about the body and blood of Christ by saying, “I don’t want any, thank you.” This is your chance to address any such misgivings among the children in your congregation.
+ Another worship education opportunity would be to point to the cross on the communion trays and then to introduce the congregation’s chorus “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.” Practice it together. Briefly recount the whole crucifixion-resurrection story and encourage worshipers to sing/say the words when they come up in Eucharist.
+ Horton Hears A Who, by Dr. Seuss, tells the story of an elephant who hears the calls for help from the Whos, tiny beings who live on a dust ball. He goes to great lengths to take care of them and is ridiculed, caged, and even threatened with death by others who cannot hear them. In a parallel plot the Whos can only make themselves heard when a small Who who had been silent starts making noise too. The whole book is filled with light hearted humor and takes 15 minutes to read. But, it is a great example of taking up a cross on behalf of others and of the importance of each disciple’s cross bearing. Shorten it by skipping the part about the silent Who. Jump from “And you very small persons will not have to die, If you make yourselves heard! So come, now and TRY” to “Finally at last from that speck on the clover, Their voices were heard! They rang out clear and clean.”
+ If you read Mark 9:2-9 (the transfiguration story) today, go to Yr B Transfiguration of the Lord (2015) for ideas about sharing it with children.