The love theme is alive and well this week. God puts on an amazing (if somewhat gory) show to show Abraham how serious God is about giving Abraham the thing he wants most, a son. Jesus insists that he loves God’s people as much as a mother hen loves and cares for her chicks. Paul calls us to stand firm in our loving living. Psalm 27 connects all these to “deliver us from evil” in the Lord’s Prayer. And, there are several hymns related to these themes to feature as we worship our way through Lent.
The Texts for Today
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
t There are important nuanced differences between covenants and promises, but children will not grasp them. For children this is a story about a promise God made to Abram. Children do have experiences with promises. They make promises about being at practices and sportsmanship when they join a sports team, learn and say the scout promise if they are a scout, and hear people make promises to God when babies are baptized and couples are married. These examples can serve as points of reference with which to explore the importance making and keeping promises.
t Point out that Abram had trouble believing God’s promise that he, who was almost 100 years old, could have a son. Tell the story about the stars. Since many urban and suburban children do not often see star-filled skies, describe night skies you have seen or show pictures of starry night skies. Note the impossibility of counting that many stars and the fact that there are even more stars that we cannot see. Then put a star sticker on the back of the hand of each child (if the children are close to you) or pass baskets of star stickers through the pews for all worshipers to claim a star to stick on the back of their hand. As you do, note that we are the proof that God kept the promise to Abram. We are God’s children living thousands of years and on the other side of the globe from Abram and there are lots of us. Name other churches in your town. Recall groups of God’s children in different parts of the world. And, conclude we are here and there are LOTS OF US. We are as many as the stars in the sky. Then return to Abram’s trouble believing God could keep the promise and note that if God could keep that promise, we can count on God to keep other promises.
t OK, the animal sacrifices are gross to adults by today’s standards. And, they offend animal loving children. But the children are also fascinated by it. Remember this is the age of blood brother pacts and secret club house rituals. To express a solemn commitment children say, “cross my heart and hope to die.” (I even saw the phrase “poke a needle in my eye” included in this oath according to one author. That is new to me, but it fits the meaning.) The bottom line is that with this elaborate ceremony God was proving to Abram that God was totally serious about and committed to this promise.
The easy way around the gore is to read only the starry night story (verses 1-7). To wade into, invite worshipers to close their eyes while you read “the gory part” (vss 8-18) and to imagine what the verses describe. Challenge younger worshipers to draw what they imagine.
t This psalm includes praise, lamentation, prayers for help and beneath them all a deep trust of God. To emphasize all these different life situations in which people continue to trust God, have readers of many ages read different sections of the psalm concluding by reading the last together. Rehearse with the readers to help them show the feelings underlying their verses.
I have chosen the TEV because it uses the word trust instead of words and phrases that make less sense to children. Trust is also a key word for Jesus who trusts God and God’s plan as he goes to Jerusalem and for Paul who encourages the Philippians to trust God.
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The Lord is my light and my salvation;
I will fear no one. The Lord protects me from all danger;
I will never be afraid.
When evil people attack me and try to kill me,
they stumble and fall.
Even if a whole army surrounds me,
I will not be afraid;
even if enemies attack me,
I will still trust God.
I have asked the Lord for one thing;
one thing only do I want: to live in the Lord’s house all my life,
to marvel there at his goodness,
and to ask for his guidance.
In times of trouble he will shelter me;
he will keep me safe in his Temple
and make me secure on a high rock.
So I will triumph over my enemies around me.
With shouts of joy I will offer sacrifices in his Temple;
I will sing, I will praise the Lord.
Hear me, Lord, when I call to you!
Be merciful and answer me!
When you said, “Come and worship me,”
I answered, “I will come, Lord;
don’t hide yourself from me!”
Don’t be angry with me;
don’t turn your servant away.
You have been my help;
don’t leave me, don’t abandon me,
O God, my saviour.
My father and mother may abandon me,
but the Lord will take care of me.
Teach me, Lord, what you want me to do,
and lead me along a safe path,
because I have many enemies.
Don’t abandon me to my enemies,
who attack me with lies and threats.
I know that I will live to see
the Lord’s goodness in this present life.
Trust in the Lord.
Have faith, do not despair.
Trust in the Lord.
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t This week’s phrase from the Lord’s Prayer is “Deliver us from evil.” To help children claim this phrase of the prayer, define “evil” as bad stuff. List together all the bad stuff from which we might want to be saved, e.g. bullies, disease, war, getting lost, anger, being greedy. Bring pictures from papers and magazines to trigger ideas. When the list is complete restate the phrase with the particular evils listed, “God save us from diseases and wars…..”
Remember that for most children pizza is what is “delivered.” Explain that here “delivered” means “saved.” The best child’s translation of this prayer is “Lord, save us from all the bad stuff that happens.”
t If you are devoting time to the mother hen image in the gospel, a psalm with a reference to that image might be a good alternate choice. Psalm 57 is my favorite among them for today. Use the whole psalm to explore trust or just the first verse to feature the care of the mother hen.
Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful,
because I come to you for safety.
In the shadow of your wings I find protection
until the raging storms are over.
Philippians 3:17- 4:1
t The bottom line message here is “stand firm” for Jesus. Our allegiance is to God and we trust God’s power. Give children small red paper hearts to put in their shoes as a reminder to stand firm for Jesus. Encourage them to put the heart in their shoes each day this week.
Put a heart on a sandal as you talk about Jesus standing firm for God when he went bravely to Jerusalem. Laughingly note that it would be harder to keep a heart in a sandal than in a tennis shoe. Also, note that it was probably harder for Jesus to walk bravely in his sandals into Jerusalem than it will be for any of us to stand for Jesus in our tennies this week. If you have an ongoing heart display during Lent, add this to it.
t Standing firm for Jesus leads to singing either “Lord, I Want to Be A Christian” or “Guide My Feet.” Many children know both of them and they are simple enough for young readers to follow if they do not already know the song. If you are featuring songs as you worship your way through Lent, point out that these are good songs to sing to remind ourselves to stand firm for Jesus (and maybe also to keep our Lenten discipline).
t It might also lead to singing “Be Thou My Vision.” If so with younger readers point out all the these, thys and thous that are highlighted on the word sheet. Note that people used to use those words when speaking about and to God. Urge children to figure out what we are saying about God when we sing this hymn. If you are featuring songs as you worship your way through Lent, remember that last week you sang a song for Jesus. This week we sing a song for God. (Warning: hymnbooks have many different variations of verse order and words for this hymn. If this word sheet does not match the song in your hymnal, make one that does.)
Luke 13:31-35 or Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)
t The second reading is the transfiguration story that was the main reading the week before Lent in many congregations. Go to Transfiguration Sunday (Yr C) for ideas for this story if you are reading it this week.
t The first reading features Jesus’ confrontation with Pharisees who are warning him there is trouble ahead. There are references to two animals in this story. First Jesus compares King Herod to a fox. Then, he compares himself to a mother hen. The hen has more to offer children.
Jesus says I love each of God’s children as much as a mother hen loves her chicks. To explore the mother hen’s care of her chicks, read Five Little Chicks, a picture book by Nancy Tafuri. It tells of a mother hen directing her chicks to appropriate food and pulling them under her wings to snuggle and sleep. The book can be read in 2 minutes maximum. To help children get the message, discuss the problems with some of the “food” the chicks first want and the corn to which the hen directs them. Ask how it felt to sleep snuggled under their mother’s wings and why the mother kept them so close to her at night. Then reread Jesus’ claim that he loved the people of Jerusalem as much as a mother hen loved her chicks.
t Connect Jesus to the heart theme using the phrase “his heart is not in it.” Explain what it means when applied to an athlete not giving his or her all to a game. Then go to this story. Jesus says his heart is in it. He is going to Jerusalem because he loves the people there as much as a mother hen loves her chicks. His heart is so in it that a king with an army threatening to kill him will not stop him. He is willing to face danger, to be hurt, even to die. In other words, his heart is in it. The heart on the sandal is a good prop for this.
t Or, explore Jesus’ courage in going to Jerusalem where he knew there was going to be trouble. Point out that Jesus did not need any magical powers to see that he was making some very powerful people very angry. It was easy to see that if he went to Jerusalem there was going to be trouble. But, Jesus also knew that was what God wanted him to do. So, he did it. Remembering how often Jesus is portrayed as gentle and kind and is therefore often taken as a wimp especially by young boys, ponder the bravery it took for him to walk into Jerusalem facing death threats.