Thursday, August 27, 2015

Year B - Proper 21, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 18th Sunday after Pentecost (September 27, 2015)


Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22

This is the only reading from Esther in the RCL.  So one year it would be a delight to tell the whole, somewhat unknown, story with dramatic flair.  The story features two courageous people who act heroically and save the day without the benefit of super powers or super tools.  They simply and bravely do what has to be done using what they have at hand.  They are great role models.  It is an opportunity to go short on the sermon in order to go long on the scripture and possibly to involve the children in the presentation of scripture.  It is also an opportunity to focus on a story with and for children on a Sunday far enough into the new church program year that it reaches out to families who may be having trouble maintaining their commitment to get to worship regularly this year with a service they and the children will especially appreciate.

The assigned verses assume that listeners know the whole story.  Since many do not, it is worth telling that story.  Because the story is long and complicated, children’s Bible story books are good readings.  Try one of these.

Queen Esther, by Tomie de Paola, is my favorite version of the story, but is old and therefore harder to get.  In the middle of the book there are several pages of paper puppets to be glued to sticks and a stage to cut out.  A children’s class could be videoed presenting this puppet show while the story is read.  The video could then be projected as the scripture for worship.  The story can be read in about 8 minutes.

“Esther Saves Her People” in Children of God Storybook Bible, by Desmond Tutu, is the shortest version of the story.  It is one page and can be read in 3 minutes.  It presents only the outline of the story without all the colorful details.  But, it does tell the whole story.




“Esther Saves Her People” in The Family Story Bible, by Ralph Milton, adds many but not all of those details.  It can be read in 5 minutes. 



These story books can be further brought to life by older children or youth pantomiming them to help listeners follow the action.  Ask an older artist to create over-sized, ornate masks of the faces of Esther, the King, Haman, and Mordecai.  The children carry them on dowels/broomsticks in front of their faces as they walk through the action of the stories.

Jewish congregations often cheer every time Esther or Mordecai’s names are mentioned and boo or stomp their feet every time Haman’s name is mentioned.  To do this think like silent vaudeville performers.  Have “acolytes” with posters that urge people to “Cheer!” or “Boo!” cue the congregation as the story is read.

COURAGE
Courage is key word in this story.  With no super powers or special weapons, Esther and Mordecai do what they can with what they have and that is enough to save the day.  That makes this a good story with which to encourage worshipers of all ages to look for what they can do about problems they confront rather than what they cannot do.  It is easy for children (and the rest of us) to assume there is nothing they can do about many problems they see around them.  They see themselves as too young, too small, not smart/knowing/wise enough.  Challenge this by listing all the reasons Esther should have just given up and hoped someone else would do something to save the Jews.  Then list what assets she did have and describe how she used them.  Include among her assets her ability to pray and her uncle’s insistence that God may have made her queen so she could do this one big task.

After recalling Esther praying before she went into action, note that she probably did some praying while in action too.  Introduce breath prayers.  In a breath prayer you say one name for God as you breathe in and make a one sentence request as you breathe out.  You pray it repeatedly as you breathe.  It is like texting God.  Esther could have prayed a breath prayer as she walked into the king’s court uninvited and as she ate (or tried to eat) with Haman and the king.  Suggest some like “Strong God, make Ahasuerus welcome me.” or “Loving God, make Ahasuerus love me.”  Or, invite worshipers to suggest prayers.  Finally, note that we can pray breath prayers of our own every day when we need them.


Sing in response to Esther’s story and Psalm 124.

Sing Stand O Stand Firm (hear it HEREmaking up verses about Esther, Mordecai, and people who need courage to face difficult situations today.  Today I might include the people of Syria, children on school buses, and families with too much to do.  A song leader or choir sings the verses with the congregation joining in on the chorus. 

Identify people who are in situations like that of Esther today, e.g. Christians in some Muslim countries and Muslims in some Christian countries, even illegal immigrants in the US.  Sing We Shall Overcome in spirit of psalm and for all who need God’s help. 

Sing Guide My Feet with motions to pray for God to keep you moving.  (Free worshipers from their songbooks by calling on them to follow a song leader or choir who will sing and do the motions as each verse begins.)
March in place to “guide my feet…”
Hold hands for “hold my hands…”
Throw hands up in the air and look up like a child 
   wanting to be picked up for “I’m your child…”
Hand on heart for “Search my heart…”
Etc.

Use this for non-commercial purposes.
Sing God of Grace and God of Glory pointing out the chorus, “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage” and encouraging even non-readers to sing at least that.  Or, give children (all worshipers) copies of the illustrated word sheet.  Point out the gray verses referring to how Esther and Mordecai felt facing Haman’s death order.  Invite worshipers to sing remembering those two and/or problems they and others face today.

Use this in for non-commercial purposes.
There is also an illustrated song sheet with which to sing Great Is Thy Faithfulness.  It parallels Psalm 124.  The illustrations are self explanatory and simply help singers pay attention to what they are singing.




Psalm 124

Read this psalm after reading the story of Esther.  Imagine yourselves among the Jews celebrating God’s saving them from Haman’s destruction.  Also check out the suggestions just above about how to sing hymns that respond to Psalm 124 and Esther’s story.

To help children grasp all the images in the psalm, have worshipers open their pew Bibles.  Briefly point out the format in the first verse, then walk through the images that say how much trouble they were in.
It was like we were being carried away by a raging flood.
It was like an animal was eating us.
We were like a bird caught in a trap – before God broke 
    the trap to free us
Point out that in all these situations God did indeed save the people.  Then read the psalm together from the Bible or using the script below.

? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? 

Psalm 124

Leader:      What if the Lord had not been on our side?
                   Answer, O Israel!

People:       “If the Lord had not been on our side
when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us alive
in their furious anger against us;
then the flood would have carried us away,
the water would have covered us,
the raging torrent would have drowned us.”

Leader:       Let us thank the Lord,
who has not let our enemies 
destroy us.

People:        We have escaped like a bird 
                               from a hunter’s trap;
the trap is broken, and we are free!

All:               Our help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

                                                        Today’s English Version

? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ?

Yes, I restructured the script as it appeared in Year A.  At this point, it just felt better to me this way. 


Numbers 11: 4-6, 10-16, 24-29

This story echoes the Gospel for today.  Neither story grabs the attention of children, but the gospel probably does it better than this one. 

If you do explore this with the children, highlight all the complaining that is going on.  The people are complaining about their food and Moses is complaining about his job.  That is OK with God.  God doesn’t give them all a lecture about complaining.  God responds.  The people remember who they are and what they are doing (even while not eating well) when the gift of prophecy is given the 70 elders.  Moses is instructed to share his leadership work with natural leaders already in place. 

If you do read this long story, keep worshipers' attention with several readers.  Include a Narrator, Moses, the Lord, a runner from the camp and Joshua.  Also include the whole congregation in the reading as it is printed below or have the narrator read their part for simplicity.  Work especially with Moses and the Narrator for dramatic readings that radiate all the grumpy frustrations in the story.

L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L

Numbers 11: 4-6, 10-16, 24-29

Narrator:  The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said,

Congregation:  If only we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at." 

Narrator:  Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the Lord became very angry, and Moses was displeased.  So Moses said to the Lord,

Moses:  Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me?  Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, 'Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child,' to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors?  Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, 'Give us meat to eat!'  I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me.   If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once--if I have found favor in your sight--and do not let me see my misery.

Narrator:  So the Lord said to Moses,

The Lord:  Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you.

Narrator:  So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent.  Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.  Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp.  And a young man ran and told Moses,

Young man (running up to Moses from the congregation):   Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp."

Narrator:  And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said,

Joshua (who has been standing off to the side near Moses):  My lord Moses, stop them!

Moses: Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!"

                                                                        Based on NRSV

J J J J J J J J J J J J J J J J J J J J J


Psalm 19:7-14

DECREES  PRECEPTS  COMMANDMENT  
FEAR  ORDINANCES  LAW  
Psalm 19 appears frequently in the lectionary and was the psalm for Proper 19 - just 3 weeks ago.  One of the best ways to share it with the children in the congregation is to print the six synonyms for LAW on separate posters.  Read each one and pass it to a worshiper who is invited to stand at the front.  Give the more complicated words to older worshipers – maybe “ordinance” to a lawyer – and simpler words to younger worshipers.  Point out that they are synonyms, they are different words for the same thing.  Instruct poster bearers to raise their poster as they hear their word in the psalm.  As you read the verses, pause when you come to each poster word. 


James 5:13-20

James describes practices that heal and restore the community.  His thoughts provide an opportunity to explore specific practices as practiced in your congregation.

If your congregation holds healing services or anoints the sick with oil, explain these rites to the children.  Show them what is done.  Tell them why you do it.  And, clarify any misconceptions about “magic” involved in them.

If your congregation hears prayer requests during worship on Sunday, take time before those requests are collected to explain what you do to the children.  Also invite them to suggest prayer concerns for this day and be sure they are mentioned near the beginning of the church’s prayers that follow.

Compare the order of the prayer of confession and assurance of pardon used in your worship to the process that unfolds when we apologize to and forgive each other for mean things we said or did.  Use a specific example such as a friend you called a mean name (pick one that kids hurl at each other in your area) or tripping a kid you do not really like that much as he or she walks past your desk. 

Give children praying hands stickers with which to identify all the prayers in your printed order of worship.  Together find all the songs, printed prayers, recited prayers, prayers everyone says together and opportunities for individual prayers.  Celebrate the variety and note that all these kinds of prayer can be used every day.  Encourage children to watch for them today and not miss any opportunity to pray.  Also point out that we don’t have to be at church to pray.  There are household prayers, mealtime blessings, private prayers, even sung or whistled prayers that remind us that God is with us always.


Invite children to pray with a marker or pencil.  Instruct them to begin by drawing a loopy scribble that has several big holes in it rather than lots of tiny ones.  Tell them to write or draw people or groups or problems they want to pray for this morning in each hole.  Encourage them to add details as they talk to God about each person or topic.  Collect the prayer sheets in the offering baskets.  Or, invite children to tape them to the edges of the Table or rail at the front of the sanctuary at the end of worship.

If you deal with the questions raised about unanswered prayer that are raised by the reference to Elijah, be straight with the children too.  They need to hear early that we don’t always get what we ask for – even from God.  They also need to hear that adults are mystified when they ask God for good things - like the healing of someone they love - and they don’t get them.  Knowing this makes children less likely to conclude that they are bad people or that God doesn’t love them when they pray for something and don’t get what they desperately want and need.  They know that it happens to everyone and that no one understands it or likes it.  That helps – a little.


Mark 9:38-50

There are several themes in this complex passage.  Parts of some of them can be explored with children in ways that enriches them for the adults as well.

“In Jesus’ Name”
Explore what we mean when we end a prayer or do some service “in Jesus’ name.” 

When we say it at the end of a prayer, we are saying “I am praying this because I am a follower of Jesus and I trust Jesus who I think has great love and power.” 

When we do something to take care of another person we say we are doing it in Jesus' name because we think Jesus would want this to be done and we are doing it for him.  Make an informal litany by naming specific service work people in church do (being sure to include some children do) and asking children to respond “in Jesus’ name.”

The disciples point out people who are healing in Jesus’ name, but are not members of their group.  So, identify others working for the public good in your community, especially other churches.  Celebrate what all are doing.  Be sure the children know these other groups are not enemies, but share the building of the Kingdom.

Show pictures of other churches in your town.  Note ministries for which they are known.  This could be a discussion and/or a prayer with the group praying for each church as its picture is displayed.

“There’s A Spirit in the Air” speaks in simple everyday words about joining God in ”living working in our world.”  Before singing it challenge worshipers to listen for examples of ways God is at work in the world. 

Verse 50 about the salt is an object lesson and makes more immediate sense to adults than to children.  So focus on explaining the connection.  Give children a tiny taste of salt.  Talk about the difference salt makes on mashed potatoes and corn.  Insist that Jesus says we should makes as big a difference in the world as salt makes in food.  Identify ways we can make a difference – being kind to other people, helping out wherever we can, sharing what we have with people who need our help, etc.

Sing You Are Salt for the Earth O People, Bring forth the Kingdom of God.  To encourage children to sing have the congregation sing the chorus in response to a soloist or choir singing the verses.  Go to hymnary.org for sheet music.

The hard teaching about the millstone is for the children too.  They may not catch the message as the verse is read and they don’t need an explanation of a millstone and what would happen if a millstone were tied around a person’s neck as the person was tossed into the water.  But, they can hear a preacher insist that they are responsible for the younger ones around them and the ones who follow their lead.  If they kind of egg those kids on or let them think that something that they know is not OK is OK, then it is their fault when those other kids get in trouble.  They are responsible.  That responsibility starts now not when they grow up.

If a child is being baptized on this Sunday, put a positive spin on this teaching.  Review with the children any questions posed to the congregation.  Point out to the children that they can answer those questions and with them think about how they can live out their answer to the questions, i.e. care for the child, tell the child about Jesus, and help the child feel at home around the church. 


The verses about cutting off offending parts of one’s body are verses I’d skip over with children.  Children think so literally that they cannot get past the mental picture of deformed bodies that they are told are appreciated by God.  This is an idea to save for later.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Add a Word Search to the Worship Bags


Since most children love word search puzzles, give them one filled with words they will find in worship that day. Include words from scripture, songs, prayers, liturgy. Challenge children just before the Call to Worship to find the words in the puzzle and to draw a circle around or draw a star by each one every time they hear, sing, pray or say it in worship today. (Encourage parents to check the word list and nudge children when the words show up.) I made this one in about 15 minutes using Sunday’s worship bulletin. The title is the sermon title. PRAISE and MERCY come from printed liturgy. SCHOOL comes from a back to school discussion with the children on the steps. TEACHERS and GIFTS come from the dedication of church school teachers. COURAGE was mentioned in that discussion and appeared again in the affirmation of faith. Finally, the not very churchy word SPARROW showed up in both a hymn and the choir’s rendition of “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.” I made this puzzle using www.puzzlefast.com. Search for free word search puzzles to find lots of such sources. If you have a favorite site for such things, do send it to the rest of us!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Year B - Proper 20, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 17th Sunday after Pentecost (September 20, 2015)


Many of these texts read together could be a good antidote for the fall season’s over dedication to being the best, the greatest, number 1.  Proverbs describes an impossibly perfect woman who fewer and fewer women take seriously.  Jesus in Mark insists that it is not about being the greatest.  James warns that a lot of our problems rise in our ambitions and strivings.  Together they take us back to grace.  It’s not wrong to do our best, but we mess up when we obsess about it. 

                  The Texts 

Proverbs 31:10-31

When this description of the good woman is read by a woman children can hear it as a description of one model woman.  It also avoids the bad history in which this description was used by men to keep women “in their place.”

To help children understand how many women feel about this alphabet poem about “the good woman” read them the beginning of a similar poem about “the good kid.”  The children might call out each letter of the alphabet with the leader responding with the verse based on that letter with emphasis on the key word or phrase.  Talk about how this poem makes them feel.  Laughing, suggest other poems like “A Good Dad” or “A Good Teacher” or “A Good Friend.”  The point of all this is that none of us are that good and that is OK.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

The Good Kid

A         A good kid is able to do whatever is asked.
B         “Be thoughtful and kind to every person all the time” 
                 is the motto which a good kid follows every day.
C          Clean rooms, clean clothes, clean papers, 
                 and clean desks show the presence of a good kid.
D         Doing what is right all the time is what a good kid 
                 always does.
E          Everyone thinks a good kid is wonderful 
                 and praise comes to the good kid every single day.
F          Football, basketball, baseball, soccer 
                 and all other sports come easily to the good kid.  
                 Good kids are sports stars.
G         Good grades cover the reports of good kids.  
                 They are excellent students.
H         Happy is the word that describes a good kid 
                 all the time.
            
            Had enough?

This is my stab at it.  Feel free to use it as is or to edit freely.  Have fun.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Back in 2012 other members of my lectionary study group were all about reclaiming this text for women.  They were going to lift up the exceptional way she did her work and challenge us to use her as a model.  I tried to think of ways to present it to children in that light, but can’t get there.  I’d love to hear how others can.


Psalm 1

Today this is presented to go with the Proverbs reading.  You might make a case that it is a psalm the woman described in Proverbs would have known and liked.

Scornful, scoffers, and chaff are unfamiliar words to most children, so choose your translation carefully and point out strange words before reading if needed.  (There is no translation that includes none of these words.  So, choose the one that fits you congregation and introduce its “hard words.”)

Psalm 1 is an almost over-simplistic comparison of “the good” and “the wicked.”  To make the comparison visual, have it read by two readers (perhaps one wearing a dark shirt and pants/skirt and the other wearing a white or light colored shirt and pants/skirts).  One reads the verses about the wicked.  The other reads the verses about the good.  They begin standing back to back in the center of the sanctuary.  Each one turns to recite his or her verses facing the congregation then returns to the starting position.  This is most effective if the readers actually recite their verses from memory. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Psalm 1

Reader 1:      Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
     but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
   They are like trees planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
   In all that they do, they prosper.

Reader 2:      The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
   Therefore the wicked will not stand 
               in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation 
     of the righteous;

Reader 1:      For the Lord watches over the way 
                              of the righteous,

Reader 2:      but the way of the wicked will perish. 
                                                                                                                                 NRSV
 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
NOTE: I used the NRSV in the script because this psalm is well known in this version.  For a translation with an easier vocabulary for children look at Today’s English Version.

Visualize the major images in the psalm with a display that juxtaposes a lush leafy plant and a vase of dry brittle weeds/straw.  (BTW, talk in advance with the flower arranger so the weeds aren’t an elegant display!)  Point to the displays before reading the psalm or talk about them during the sermon to explore the psalmist’s message.


Wisdom of Solomon 1:16 – 2:1, 12-22
Jeremiah 11:18-20
Psalm 54

All three of these are very adult texts that relate in sophisticated ways to the gospel prediction of the crucifixion.  They would be rather hard to explain to children and if you did explain them would not mean that much to the children.  So, I would stick with simply retelling the passion story in Mark.  See suggestions below.

If you read any of these texts, consider the Roman Catholic lectionary suggestion that we read only Wisdom of Solomon 2:17-20.  Those verses focus the message considerably.


James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a

The Roman Catholic lectionary again streamlines this rather long repetitive text to James 3:16-4:3.  It is easier for children to stick with the shorter reading.

ENVY   SELFISH AMBITION
Before reading the text present on 2 posters “envy” and “selfish ambition” (or whatever words your translation uses).  Briefly describe the wanting in each one and encourage worshipers to listen for the words and the problems they cause according to James.

Invite worshipers to pray a prayer of confession with their eyes open doing with their hands what you do with yours as you pray together.  Begin with hands grasping and holding.  When you get to ”open our hands,” open your hands with palms out and up.  After promising forgiveness not only for hands but also for hearts, use your hands for the passing of the peace.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

God,
We want to look amazing.  
     We want great clothes, cool shoes, a great haircut.
We want our rooms in our homes filled with our stuff.
We want all the best people to be our friends.
We want to be the first, the best, the most, the greatest.
So we grab and hold and demand. 
We even kick and punch to get what we want.
Forgive us.
Teach us to let go, to open our hands 
     and hearts to others.
Teach us to be content with what we have 
     and to share it.
Teach us to think as much about what THEY want 
     as what WE want.
Teach us to be as loving as Jesus.
Amen.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Before singing Be Thou My Vision point out the verse that begins “riches I heed not.”  Spin out a short list of riches like clothes, houses, cars, video games…  Then read the next phrase “vain empty praise” and spin out a list of being the greatest athlete, the smartest student, the best ……  Roll your eyes.  Then read through the rest of the verse ending with emphasis on “Great God of heaven my treasure Thou art.”  Finally invite worshipers to sing that verse – and the others – as if they really mean it.  (Warning:  Hymnals use a variety of words for this verse.  Be sure to use the one in your book.)

Judy Blume’s picture book, The Pain and The Great One goes both with James’ teachings about not getting so tied up in ourselves and what we want and with the argument about greatness in Mark.  An eight year old big sister, the Great One,” and her six year old brother, “the Pain,” each rant about the unfair advantages the other has.  It’s a conversation most families will recognize.  It takes 7-8 minutes to read the entire book with the drama it demands.  If needed, the book could be shortened considerably by editing out parallel parts of each child’s rant, e.g. leave out the part about the blocks and the parts about staying up late or having the blocks to himself.  Or, you could select a few key phrases to say with great drama knowing that children and parents can fill in with all the others.  If you use this book in exploring James’ insistence that many of our problems spring from our jealousies of others and our greedy wants, offer a few similar rants often heard from teenagers and adults – maybe from others at the office, etc. 


Mark 9:30-37

This reading falls into 2 parts: the prediction of Jesus’ death and resurrection and Jesus’ discussion with his disciples about what constitutes greatness.  For children they are rather separate conversations.

Verses 30-32, the prediction of the crucifixion and resurrection, are an opportunity to retell the Holy Week story in September – without the distractions of Easter bunnies and chocolate eggs.  Three ways to tell the story:

t
JESUS MAFA. The Crucifixion; Jesus dies on the cross,
from 
Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. 
http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48390
[retrieved August 21, 2015].
Gather a set of pictures tracing the events of Holy Week .  Display them in order recalling the events in them as you go.  One good source is the African paintings at Vanderbilt's Art in the Christian Tradition Collection.  Go to http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-processquery.pl and type MAFA in the search line to find this series of paintings.

“Read” a simple story book about Holy Week events.  Books for young preschoolers with simple pictures sand few words are the best.  The Easter Story by Patricia A. Pingry is a good choice, but you may have another one among the children’s books for children.  Whatever book you choose avoid reading the printed words in favor of telling the story in your own words.  You can skip over some pages in order to spend more time on others.

Tell the story by singing Lord of the Dance or O Sing A Song of Bethlehem to trace all of Jesus’ life including his death on the cross.  Before singing the song, briefly walk through the stories told in each verse.  Such songs help children string together the stories about Jesus they generally hear one at a time. 

Verses 33 – 37 speak to children of something that is very real to them.  They have had the “who is the greatest” conversation with their friends repeatedly.  They have argued about who is the greatest ball player in the world, who is the best speller in their class, who among those present is the greatest at … whatever they are doing at the moment.  They are encouraged to be the best, the champion, the greatest.  From an early age we ply children with trophies, ribbons, titles, and more that mark their greatness at all sorts of things.  Jesus’ message flies in the face of all of this.  Jesus says God is not interested in who is greatest at anything.  God is interested in who pays attention to the least of the people. 

Since children are interested in other children, they will listen to information about how children were regarded in Jesus’ day.  They were totally powerless and un-important.  One source says they were referred to as it rather than he or she.  What they thought or wanted mattered to no one.  Use this information to make Jesus’ point that the greatest person is not the one who wins all the prizes and is extra specially talented, but the one who pays attention to and takes care of the people who need love and care most – in Jesus’ day the one who paid attention to children.  Then brainstorm a list of the most unimportant “it” people today – maybe younger kids or not very bright kids or kids who wear dorky clothes or…..  Insist that the greatest person according to Jesus is the person who pays attention to the “it kids.”

Yes, again!
Judy Blume’s The Pain and the Great One which was used to explore the James text above can also be seen as a child’s version of the disciples’ discussion about who is the greatest.  The trick is to recognize in the children’s rants feelings we all (and the disciples) have at all ages.  We want to be special, the great one, and most loved.  Jesus is telling us that those feelings are dead ends.  We need to stop worrying about ourselves and start paying attention to people around us.  The surprising thing is that when we do that we are happier.


Yertle the Turtle, by Dr. Seuss, tells of Yertle the turtle king who tries to prove his greatness with ever higher thrones.  He makes those high thrones by piling more and more turtles on top of each other.  Max at the bottom of the tower cries for relief and is ignored until Yertle seeing the moon rise above him is outraged that anything is higher than he is.  Max guessing what Yertle will want next, lets out a big burp causing the whole tower to fall and pitching Yertle into the mud.  It is a parable about the foolishness of trying to be “the greatest.”

There are several versions of the first and last verses.  Be sure you print the one in your hymn book.
To turn The Servant Song into an affirmation of faith, give children or all worshipers word sheets with large margins early in the service.  Read the first verse.  Point out all the yous in it and insist that the song only becomes real when we replace the yous with specific people or groups of people we want to serve as Jesus instructed.  Invite worshipers to draw or write the names of people for whom they want to sing this song.  Encourage them to include people in their own families, friends they like, even people they don’t like but whom they know need their loving care.  Suggest that they listen for ideas as you worship together.  Then sing the song using the song sheets near the conclusion of the service.

Other child friendly songs that call us to respond to Jesus call to discipleship include
Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your
      Love
Be Thou My Vision
Take My Life and 
     Let It Be Consecrated