Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Year C - Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 1, 2016)

Early May this year brings us another traffic jam of worship texts.  May 1 is the Sixth Sunday of Easter.  Thursday May 5 is Ascension Day.  Next Sunday May 8 is the Seventh Sunday of Easter and in many countries Mothers’ Day.  Finally, May 15 is Pentecost and things settle down a bit.  The main thing to consider is when to tell the Ascension story.  It is an important story for children as it answers the post Easter question, “Where is Jesus now?” and sets the stage for the waiting for Pentecost, then for Pentecost itself.  At least some years, I would omit either the sixth or seventh Sunday of Easter in order to worship around the Ascension stories.

Texts for The Day

Acts 16:9-15

There is a lot of action and are several unfamiliar place names in this story.  To help children hear the story through them, have it pantomimed by an older children’s or youth class while the usual worship leader reads the story from the Bible in the lectern.  As the reading begins, Paul stands to one side of the chancel in front of a person holding a sign that says TROAS.  Spread out across the chancel in story order are people holding signs that say, MACEDONIA, SAMOTHRACE NEAPOLIS, and PHILIPPI.  At the far side of the chancel just past the PHILIPPI sign, sit 2 or 3 women in a circle.  Lydia wears a purple scarf or dress.  As actors take their places, comment on the geography noting the significance of the sea to be crossed between Troas and Macedonia or laying out a blue fabric seas and pointing out that Macedonia was the area (like a state?) in which Samothrace, Neapolis and Philippi were cities.  (No one will remember all this geography, but explaining makes the story feel more real.)

Hmmm…In 2016, it is interesting that the water Paul crossed is the same water middle Eastern refugees are crossing this year.  Simply noting that gives the story reality.  It may also open some worship themes about reaching out to each other in the current situation.

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Acts 16:9-15

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

Paul looks up curiously.  The person holding the MACEDONIA sign may yell out the “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”  Or, it may be read by the reader.

When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.  We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony.

Following the text Paul goes from one place to the next.

We remained in this city for some days.  On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there.

Paul joins the women in the circle.  He makes gestures as if speaking and they turn their heads and bodies to listen to him.

A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth.  The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.  When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

Pause long enough for Lydia to kneel and Paul to baptize her.  Paul then offers her his hand and she rises.  She may say the phrase “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” Or the reader may read it.

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With this story we turn from the empty tomb toward Pentecost and the Holy Spirit.  On Pentecost the Holy Spirit comes with fire.  Today the Holy Spirit works more quietly sending Paul a vision and Lydia a visiting preacher with a new message about God.  Being Easter People, they both listen and act on what they encounter.  Both had to be brave.  Paul was moving into a new place with lots of different people to whom he was to speak.  Lydia responded by being baptized and inviting Paul and his friends to stay at her house – which could have made some local people angry.  Add the Lydia Easter figure near Paul on your Easter People display.

Public Domain per Wikimedia Commons
Both Paul and Lydia had to listen carefully to new ideas and decide what to do about them.  Native American dreamcatchers capture this process in a web and some feathers or beads.  Hung wherever people will be dreaming – maybe their beds, maybe their reading place – the net in the center of the circle is meant to catch all the dreams and visions and sort them out letting only the good ones through.  Display a dreamcatcher or picture of one describing its use.  Then talk about how we must listen carefully to both the dreams that come when we are sleeping and the visions that come when we are awake.  We have to figure out which are important ideas and suggestions from the Holy Spirit/God and which are just crazy old dreams and wishes in our own heads. 

If children are gathered close to you conclude this discussion with a blessing of each child’s ears or head putting your hand in place saying, “May God help you listen for dreams and vision and figure out what to do with them.”  If there are too many children for one person to bless, show them how to bless each other and allow time for them to bless those around them.

If your congregation regularly uses the Apostles’ Creed in worship, this Sunday and Pentecost give you an opportunity to highlight two phrases near the end of the creed that often get lost for children in the string of phrases that seem unrelated to each other.  Today focus on “I believe on the Holy Ghost.”  On Pentecost pick up with “the holy catholic church” to explore how the Holy Spirit starts the church.  Begin by either interrupting the creed as it is being recited by the congregation or challenging the congregation to recite the creed interrupting it with a clap at this phrase.  Talk about the phrase, then recite the whole creed together again.

The term “Holy Ghost” calls to mind a friendly Halloween spook maybe wearing a halo.  Children need to hear that to the people who originally translated the creed into English “ghost” meant the invisible you that was what made you the unique person you are.  Everyone had a ghost.  Today we might say Holy Spirit instead of Holy Ghost.  The Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit is the invisible unique goodness that makes God God.  So when we say “I believe in the Holy Ghost” we are saying that we believe that God comes to each and all of us.  We can know God and God can communicate with us in lots of surprising ways.  Connect it to today’s stories in which the Holy Ghost speaks to Paul in a dream and to Lydia in the words of a visiting preacher. 

This worship activity also connects to the gospel reading promising the Holy Spirit.

Paul and Lydia each respond to their messages from God by doing what they are best able to do.  Paul preaches because he is a teacher.  Lydia offers her home as a place to stay because that is what she has to offer.  Use Lydia’s offer to introduce the word “hospitality” – being sure to point out both the connect and the disconnect between it and today’s word “hospital.”  Describe the details of what she did – provide a place to stay and food to eat.  She also seems to have let her home become a meeting place for the church Paul started in Philippi.  Describe ways your congregation extends hospitality including some in which children participate.  Also describe ways individuals can extend hospitality to people every day wherever they are.  For children this includes inviting new children or lonely children to join their groups. 

If this story and the gospel lead you to explore love that reaches out to include all, Draw the Circle Wide is a good song with repetitive words on which children can join in.  Google the title to find several YouTube videos of it.

Psalm 67

For a congregational reading of this psalm the One could be a worship leader, a children’s class or choir, or any choir.  All is the entire congregation.  (I chose The New Jerusalem Bible because its vocabulary is most familiar to older children, e.g. “fairness” instead of the “equity” in NRSV.)

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Psalm 67

One:   May God show kindness and bless us,
and make his face shine on us.

All:     Then the earth will acknowledge your ways,
and all nations your power to save.

One:   Let the nations praise you, God,
let all the nations praise you.

All:     Let the nations rejoice and sing for joy,
for you judge the world with justice,
you judge the peoples with fairness,
you guide the nations on earth.

One:   Let the nations praise you, God,
let all the nations praise you.

All:     The earth has yielded its produce;
God, our God has blessed us.
May God continue to bless us,
and be revered by the whole wide world.

                             Based on The New Jerusalem Bible

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Go to Year A - Proper 15 for a script in which the congregation responds with the “let all the people…” phrase.  That script is based on the New Revised Standard Version.

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

The codes in this section of John’s vision are very hard for children to crack.  They are very detailed, e.g. a tree that bears fruit every season and is fed by a crystal river that flows out of the throne.  It is not easy to unpack the meaning of each of those details and then combine them.  And, if you do that you end up with an abstract message about the fullness of eternal life that does speak meaningfully to children.  Given that I would simply introduce this as a complicated picture of life in the world when it is completely as God intends it to become.  And ask a few simple questions:
Is this a good or bad place to live? 
What makes it sound good?
Who is in charge?
How would this picture of the end of the world help Christians who are having hard times now?

This image may be used for
non-commercial purposes.
When this text showed up in 2013, Dr. Laura Sugg went on line to collect this page of jewel pictures.  The jewels are in the order on the page that they appear in the text.  Children, and other interested worshipers, were offered pages and invited to follow the pictures as they listened to the text read aloud and to try to imagine what the city they were hearing about.  You are free to use this page for non-commercial purposes.

Sing “We Are Marching in the Light of God” after rereading verses 23-25.  The repeated words in both the original Zulu language and English are easy for children.  Just for fun take a look and listen to what a group of middle schoolers in Singapore did with this African music HERE or below.  If you search the name of the song you will find wonderful videos of everyone from children in an African school, to wonderful African adult musicians, to a bunch of white kids doing a less outstanding but no less credible job of singing this song.

Children are amused to hear that in this picture of God’s City there is no Temple or Church.  Take time to point this out and explain that the reason for this is that Church is everywhere, every day as people love God and each other all the time.  For the relief of some children point out that this does mean that life in God’s City will be endless choir rehearsals and Sunday School lessons.  Instead we will know all the songs so well we will whistle and sing them no matter what we are doing and will treat others and be treated by them with love all the time without needing lessons to remind us to that.

John 14:23-39

Best friends are very important to children.  They often show their devotion to their friends by wearing matching clothes and signing up for the same teams or clubs.  To show their devotion to more distant friends like sports hero/ines they collect cards, put posters on their walls, etc.  So the question “how can I show that I love Jesus?” is a good question to pose for them.  Talk about possible ways (maybe wearing a cross necklace or coming to church on Sunday).  Then reread Jesus’ answers to the question - “Whoever loves me will obey my teaching” (verse 23) and “Whoever does not love me does not obey my teaching” (verse 24).  (This TEV wording makes more immediate sense to children than the NRSV “keep my word.) 

Jesus continues in the friendship mode by promising to be with us, to be loyal always – in good times, in bad times, even after we die.  We can count on God/Jesus to be with us.  That kind of loyalty is a meaningful Easter promise for children.

Kisses in the Wind, by Lisa Moser, offers an interesting way to explore the link between Easter and Pentecost.  It is the tender story of Lydia saying good-bye to her grandmother as her family leaves in a covered wagon for Oregon.  It is a bit long (5 minutes to read aloud) and requires follow up conversation to get to its message in worship today.  But, it clearly lays out the feelings of these two characters and names some of the ways they deal with those feelings.  Both have parallels to the new relationship Jesus has with his disciples as he gets ready for the Ascension.  Lydia and Grandma do “picturing” (remembering).  Jesus’ disciples will remember all the things they did with Jesus.  Lydia will make bark boats with new friends.  The disciples will love new people as Jesus loved them.  Grandma wrote her stories into a book for Lydia.  Jesus’ disciples (eventually) have the stories of Jesus in the Bible.  Lydia says having her hair braided will always make her feel close to Grandma and all the times she braided her hair.  Disciples feel close to Jesus when the eat bread and drink the cup together.  Finally, as the wagon rolled out Grandma blew “kisses on the wind.”  Jesus promises the Holy Spirit that will be like kisses on the wind for his disciples (and us).  If you will read the stories of Ascension next Sunday and Pentecost on the following Sunday, this story and conversation would be a good way to set the stage for those stories and to explore children’s curiosity about “how things worked” as Easter moved toward Pentecost.

Highlight any reference to the Holy Spirit in your communion liturgy.  In my tradition, I would look for a form of the great prayer of thanksgiving that mentions the Holy Spirit.  Before the sacrament, I would read it putting it into my own words and explaining the connection to the bread and cup. 

Go to the Acts material above for a way to explore “I believe in the Holy Ghost” from the Apostles’ Creed.

To pick up on some of the images in this word picture:

Sing “Dona Nobis Pacem” with its simple repeated Latin words.  Sing it in unison or as a round between several choirs or sides of the aisle in the congregation.

Sing “I’ve Got Peace Like a River” being sure to add “I’ve got joy like a fountain….”

After reading about Jesus passing the peace to us, explain your practice of passing the peace during worship.  Then, do it.  You might pass the peace a second time as the benediction at the end of worship today.

John 5:1-9 (Alternate Reading)

This is one of the harder healing stories for children to understand and appreciate because they first have to deal with all the sick people who were waiting to be first in the pool when the waters were troubled.  For that reason (and the wealth of other material for this day) I would not use this story.  If however you do use it, simply tell the children that people in Jesus’ day believed that if they were first into the water at this particular pool they would be healed and that seems weird to us today.  Then, direct their attention to the fact that the paralyzed man had almost no chance of being first in.  Children understand wanting something that you have little chance of getting because everything is against you.  Imagine wanting to be on the travel soccer team but knowing others will be chosen before you.  Even imagine being a hungry refugee child wanting to get to food being handed out before it is all gone but being pushed aside by bigger stronger people.  Then, talk about Jesus “seeing” the paralyzed man and giving him what he needed.  The trick with this is to admit that Jesus doesn’t get us everything we want – e.g. get us on travel soccer no matter how good we are – but to challenge worshipers to join Jesus in looking out for the people who are stuck “at the back of the line” and reaching out to them.  The difficulty of doing that sends me back to my original inclination to skip this story for the children, but for what it is worth I’ll leave it in this post.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Year C - Fifth Sunday of Easter (April 24, 2016)

Acts 11:1-18

Children are fascinated by this story.  It is however rather long and hard for them to follow as it is read.  To help them, prepare a class of older children to act the story out as Peter tells it reading from the lectern.  Simple costumes and props are a plus, but not essential.  The children bring the story to life by making visual all the moving around as the story unfolds.  In a more playful pantomime, a set of children might stand behind Peter and lower a small sheet (maybe a crib sheet) filled with stuffed animals or plastic food from the nursery.  In a more formal setting, the sheet may be left to listeners’ imaginations with Peter simply looking up, showing first puzzlement, then shaking his head “no” at the appropriate places.

Another way to tell this story is to read “Cornelius Becomes A Christian” from The Family Story Bible, by Ralph Milton.

No matter how you read or present this story, it is important to explain the problems between Jews and Gentiles in simple terms before reading.  It can be as simple as, “Today we are hearing a story about Peter and Cornelius.  Peter was a Jew.  Cornelius was a Gentile.  Jews did not like or trust Gentiles.  Because Gentiles would eat foods that Jews would not, Jews would not eat with Gentiles or even drink from a cup that a Gentile had used.  Knowing that, listen to what happened between Peter and Cornelius.”

Children who are often very picky about what they eat, even what the people they eat with eat, are fascinated by this story.  It is an opportunity to help them be more open to people who eat foods they do not.  To start this discussion present a variety of foods.  They could be a collection of food samples from the grocery store, plastic foods from the nursery kitchen toys, a collection of pictures of foods, or wooden shapes like those in the photo.  Identify which of the foods children would or would not eat.  Talk honestly about how hard it can be to eat foods that look or smell very different from what you are used to eating.  Then retell this story insisting that God was asking Peter to eat whatever his Gentile host Cornelius served him.  Without going into details of kosher law, note that Peter had never eaten pork or ham and had been told since he was a little kid that good people just did not eat anything that came from a pig.  Imagine him tasting ham for the first time knowing with his head that God said it was OK, but ….   Wonder if he liked it, noting that sometimes we like new foods and other times we do not.  Then, talk about eating new food with refugee families from other countries.  Point out that being willing to eat someone else’s new food is one way we make friends with them.

Add either pictures or drawing of people of
many different races around Peter
or add strange foods to his tummy – not both.
If you are doing a series on Easter people, Peter is an Easter person who met new people and ate new foods to share God’s love with people.  We are called to do likewise.  So, have fun adding strange foods that Peter would be willing to eat in order to tell new people that God loves them.  Or, talk about who is “different” today.  Add pictures around Peter (maybe from old National Geographics) or draw them or write words describing them.  Be ready to face even confront the discussions about who among refugees is welcome this spring.

 If you celebrate communion today, highlight phrases in the Invitation to the Table that welcome all kinds of people.  Take time to name specific people and groups who are included in this general welcome.  For fun, ask, “Is ___ welcome at this Table?” waiting for worshipers to reply before repeating the question with another name.  Start naming people like the worshipers in the room, but proceed to people with whom those people would be less comfortable.  Conclude by repeating the Invitation as stated in the liturgy.

God’s Dream, by Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams, describes God’s dream of a world in which children of all colors and cultures live together in peace.  It is beautifully illustrated and has a rather complex story line.  So, especially with younger children, I’d read just a few selected pages.  Today I’d start with “God dreams that every one of us will see that we are all brothers and sisters…” and may or may not read the last two pages about God’s rainbow smile.  This allows you to explore the pictures and focus on one key idea.  (The whole book can be read aloud in just less than 5 minutes.)

NOTE: This book might also be read on the Seventh Sunday of Easter this year.  Before reading it today, peak ahead for suggestions about meshing the two readings. 

“They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” with its repeated lines is the easiest song for younger children to sing in response to this story.  Older elementary readers can sing along on “Help Us Accept Each Other” if the words “accept” and “acceptance” are pointed out and defined as “be friends with” before you sing it. 

Let’s All Join In, a book of wonderfully illustrated poems by Quentin Blake, is a book to savor and discuss with a small group of children who can see the details in the illustrations.  For today, use only the last poem that notes that whenever the house needs cleaning, a mouse needs catching, granny is fainting, or a big cake needs eating “we all join in” and maybe the first poem about how much “better” things are when everyone adds their particular music or angry noise together.  Identify all the different ways people help in the last poem to celebrate the diversity of ways of doing things that Cornelius and his Gentile friends added to the lives of Peter and his Jewish friends in today’s story.

Psalm 148

Help a class of older elementary school children prepare to read the psalm as the call to worship.  The parts of Readers 5 and 6 could be divided between 2 children each to allow for more readers if needed.  (This not only gives children a leadership role in worship, it also gets their entire families into the sanctuary during the long “after Easter, but still in school” season that can drag when Easter is early as it is this year.)


Psalm 148

All Readers:
         Praise the Lord!

Reader 1:
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!

Reader 2:
Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his host!
Reader 3:
Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!

Reader 4:
Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever;
he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
Reader 5:
Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds!
Reader 6:
Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike,
old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people,
praise for all his faithful,
for the people of Israel who are close to him.

All Readers:
        Praise the Lord!



To keep the Easter praises going, display a colorful, even glittery poster of the word “Praise!”  (Perhaps a children’s or youth class could create one.)  Before the Call to Worship talk about and define praise as saying all the wonderful things that are true about a person.  Note how saying those things helps us remember how special that person is.  Then suggest that worshipers watch for times we praise God in worship today.  Give children gold or yellow markers with which to draw a star or smiley face in their printed order of worship each time they hear us praise God.  Older children will put theirs by the correct item in the order of worship.  Younger children will simply decorate their paper with stars or smiley faces.  If you do this also try one or two of the following:

Point out that we start every worship time singing a praise hymn.  Briefly explain why and describe how the one you will sing today praises God.

Sing “All Creatures of Our God and King.”  The Alleluias can be sung by even non-readers when they are encouraged to sing them.  It also recalls the Earth Day emphasis of the past week.

Sing “Earth and All Stars” pointing out the interesting very modern call to test tubes (or maybe the scientists who use them) to praise God.  Older children delight in finding such “today” references in a hymn.

If you sing the Doxology regularly take time to review the words together.  Say the words together inviting worshipers to clap each time they say the word “praise.”  Put each phrase into your own words identifying the beings who are called to praise God and the reasons for praising God.  Then sing the song together.

Revelation 21:1-6

For most children life is new every day, so the promise of a new heaven and new earth is not particularly important to them.  It is probably easier to explore specific sections of this vision than the whole image.

There is no rainbow in this vision, but the vision and the rainbow carry the same message.  And, the rainbow may communicate the message more clearly to children.  Most children love to draw and wear rainbows, but few know that rainbows are codes/symbols for hope.  This is a chance to introduce that – without getting into the details of the Noah story.  Simply ask children when we can see a rainbow.  Can we see one on a sunny day?  No, we only see a rainbow after a storm.  When we see a rainbow we remember that no matter how scary a storm is, God is with us.  (Give out rainbow stickers or tattoos to make this connection more memorable.)

Lorraine Fort shared this idea in the comments on Facebook in 2013: We have been using the idea of "code words" in Revelation as our children's themes.  So this week, I'm going to use "the new Jerusalem" as the image of the church.  A city, a community, takes many different people to make it run well...police, street workers, trashmen, store owners, teachers, electricians, residents, etc....God brings them all together in perfection in the new Jerusalem. In our church, we are brought together to serve God.  This leads to the inclusion of everyone, even those we rarely think about or think should be excluded (Acts text) and helps us to hear the command from Jesus in John in a new way.

There’s No Such Thing as Little, by LeUyen Pham, is a collection of example of things that at first look small (like a candle) but which are really large (like the candle set in the mirrors of a lighthouse).  The little thing is seen through which two children are peering.  The big thing is revealed when the page is turned.  Choose one or two of your favorite examples to savor the idea of something being bigger than it looks at first.  Then introduce John’s new Jerusalem as the big city that includes the whole earth rather than the little band of Christians hiding out together.  Those Christians (and we) are bigger than we think.  (Older elementary children who are often introduced to metaphors and other pictures in words are particularly interested in this way of using the Bible as a peephole to see the world as God intends it.)

This text is most often read at funerals.  To do a little worship education about funerals, describe a funeral as a happy – sad worship time held when a person dies.  Briefly describe the sad feelings we have when some has died.  Note that there are lots of tears at funerals as we try to let all the sadness out.  That is why we often read verses 3 and 4.  Read the verses and explain how they remind us that the tears and sadness are not the end.  Jesus has promised us that a day will come when no one will ever cry again and pain and death won’t happen.  It helps to remember that when we are crying now.  Older children can apply this message to other times when they are reduced to tears.

NOTE:  Today children often hear about funerals long before they ever attend one.  Because they recognize the deep sadness that goes with them, they are often frightened when they attend one for the first time.  We prepare them for this experience when we talk about funerals when one is not eminent.

Sing ”Canto de Esperanza” (Song of Hope) which comes from Argentina in response to this text and in honor of the new pope who also comes from Argentina.

In Next Year I’ll Be Special, by Patricia Giff, first grade Marilyn details all the ways second grade will be better than first grade is.  Mainly she will have a teacher and classmates who will appreciate her.  Near the end of what may have been a long school year for some children, this is a version of hope they can appreciate and that parallels John’s vision of a new Jerusalem when everything is as it should be.  Instead of reading the entire book (it gets a little repetitive), select your favorite pages describing how second grade will be better.  Then, jump to the last three pages beginning with Daddy saying “Oh, Marilyn, you were always special to me” and concluding with the last two pages that point out that Miss Minch will still be in first grade next year while Marilyn will not.  It is not unlike Jesus insisting you are always special to him and promising that one day the problems of this day will end.

John 13:31-35

The first verses of this reading only make sense when read in the context of the foot-washing and betrayal that proceed it and the predicted denials that follow it.  Children hear and explore their meaning most easily on Maundy Thursday.  So, today, I’d omit them and read only the new commandment (verses 34-35) linking it to the Peter and Cornelius story.  Peter learned to welcome and love Cornelius and other Gentiles who he previously thought were unworthy of his love or God’s love.

If you create prayers about loving one another in demanding situations to which the congregation responds with the new commandment, be sure to include situations that will be familiar to children using words they will recognize.  For example, when everyone is mad at each other in the family…, when friends are fighting…, when someone at work or school is making your life really miserable…, or when a friend has done something that really hurt your feelings “on purpose”…

If you did not do it during Lent, give out felt hearts for worshipers to wear in their shoes or carry in their pockets as a reminder to love one another as Jesus loves us.

I am feeling odd about not adding all sorts of resources for exploring this command in general, but really do think that on this day it is an echo of the themes in the other texts.  So, I am going to leave it here – unless I hear from bunches of you saying that you are making it the focus of the day and want “love one another” resources.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Things to Do with Your Child (or Grandchild) During Easter Worship

Christ Church, Shaker Heights, Ohio by Leslie Swaim-Fox

Get there early enough to get a seat where your child can see and hear easily. 

Ask an usher for a worship bag and use it with your child.

Point out and even visit the banners, flowers and other Easter decorations.  (They can be hard to see across a big room.)  Savor the colors and sparkle.  Identify the symbols.  Remember that Easter lilies are shaped like trumpets announcing Jesus is alive.  (Such visits are especially good for early arrivers after you have secured your seats.)

Enjoy the trumpets, drums and other special musical instruments.

Stand short children on their pew when the congregation stands so they can see more easily and can sing and speak in the middle of the sound rather than under it.

Help children sing every “Alleluia!” in the Easter hymns even if they can’t read the other words.  Together count the alleluias in one song or in the whole service.  To do the latter make a hash or write an A in the margin of your bulletin each time you hears, sing or say the word.

Nudge your child just before the Gospel is read saying, “Listen to this.  It is the big story for this day.”

If you have a storybook about the empty tomb or a Jesus storybook that includes the empty tomb story, hand it to your child as the sermon begins. 

If your congregation passes the peace, help your child pass the peace to everyone around you.

Make all your comments about the crowd positive.  Be happy to see how many people think the Easter story is important.  Point out that they care enough to dress in their best and come to hear it and sing about it with everyone else. 

(After the service) take a picture of your family in the sanctuary or outside with the church building in the background to remind yourselves that you were here.

* Remember, you are creating memories.  Some of them will be warm and wonderful.  Others will lead to family eye-rolling stories told for years to come.  All them shape lives.

Things to Do with Your Child (or Grandchild) During Easter Worship

Get there early enough to get a seat where your child can see and hear easily. 

Ask an usher for a worship bag and use it with your child. 

t Point out and even visit the banners, flowers and other Easter decorations.  (They can be hard to see across a big room.)  Savor the colors and sparkle.  Identify the symbols.  Remember that Easter lilies are shaped like trumpets announcing Jesus is alive.  (Such visits are especially good for early arrivers after you have secured your seats.) 

t Enjoy the trumpets, drums and other special musical instruments. 

t Stand short children on their pew when the congregation stands so they can see more easily and can sing and speak in the middle of the sound rather than under it. 

t Help children sing every “Alleluia!” in the Easter hymns even if they can’t read the other words.  Together count the alleluias in one song or in the whole service.  To do the latter make a hash or write an A in the margin of your bulletin each time you hears, sing or say the word. 

t Nudge your child just before the Gospel is read saying, “Listen to this.  It is the big story for this day.” 

t If you have a storybook about the empty tomb or a Jesus storybook that includes the empty tomb story, hand it to your child as the sermon begins.   

t If your congregation passes the peace, help your child pass the peace to everyone around you. 

t Make all your comments about the crowd positive.  Be happy to see how many people think the Easter story is important.  Point out that they care enough to dress in their best and come to hear it and sing about it with everyone else. 

t (After the service) take a picture of your family in the sanctuary or outside with the church building in the background to remind yourselves that you were here. 

t Remember, you are creating memories.  Some of them will be warm and wonderful.  Others will lead to family eye-rolling stories told for years to come.  All them shape lives.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Year C - Fourth Sunday of Easter (April 17, 2016)

Le Breton, Jacques ; Gaudin, Jean. Jesus the Good Shepherd,
from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved March 15, 2013]. Original source: Collection of Anne Richardson Womack.

t This is Good Shepherd Sunday.  All the texts have some connection to the shepherd image.  That makes it a good day to feature any Good Shepherd art that is painted, carved, glassed or stitched into your sanctuary.  Point it out, tell stories about its choice or creation, and encourage worshipers to connect it to your worship today.  If you have no such art, add some shepherd equipment to the room for the day.  Plunder Christmas pageant props or creches for shepherd’s crooks or staffs and shepherd and sheep figures.  Use them to describe the work of a shepherd.

t Friday of the coming week is Earth Day.  Younger children can link the shepherd’s care of sheep with our care of animals – wild animals, farm animals, and pets.  Identify the way the shepherd cared for the sheep and the ways we care for a number of different animals – maybe a polar bear, a chicken, and a cat or dog. 

t There is also a connection to Dorcas.  While Dorcas sewed clothes for the widows, some people work especially hard on taking care of the animals.  Recall stories of children who have saved endangered animals (think “Free Willy” or “Dolphin Tale”).  Or, tell stories about people who work on behalf of the animals at the local SPCA.  Some SPCAs invite families to volunteer together caring for the animals there.  If yours does, offer that to families as a service possibility.  To go all out bring one or more kittens or puppies from there for children to meet during or after worship.

Texts for the Day

Acts 9:36-43

t Children often call each other “Dorkas” as a friendly put down.  So, if your translation names this woman Dorcas, point out before reading it that there is no connection between her name and today’s put down name.

t This story is not so much about Peter as it is about Tabitiha/Dorcas, who is an Easter person.  She shares her love of God by spending lots of her time sewing clothes for those who need them.  The Bible mentions widows, but I’ll bet she probably also made clothes for constantly growing children.  Few children today have clothes that were made for them, but they often have special clothes that were given to them by a friend or relative.  Bring a piece of clothing that you love because it is such a gift to help worshipers imagine the mourners wearing and bringing what Tabitha/Dorcas made for them.  Then ask worshipers what people could bring or say to illustrate their loving care to them.  Point out that not all people sew, but all Easter people are called to care for the people around them in some way. 

t A conversation I had with a fifth grade girl in Sunday School recently reminded me that girls can be offended by Jesus choice of 12 male disciples.  Elise insisted that it simply did not make sense that Jesus who was supposed to love everyone would choose 12 people to be a special in group – kind of a clique – and that they would all be guys.  Luke clearly identifies Tabitha/Dorcas as a disciple.  She is the only woman so identified in the New Testament.  Other women of course play big roles, but at least this one is named a disciple.  Older elementary girls like Elise may especially appreciate that fact.

t If your congregation has a prayer shawl ministry, this is a good opportunity to highlight it.  Drape some shawls over the Table or rail.  Describe the ministry.  Even wrap a few children/folks in one briefly asking them to name one good thing about their shawl.  Then bless those shawls (and all others the group knits?) for their purpose. 

Possibility: Some older elementary children learn to knit and could be invited to knit a shawl for someone in need.  Maybe the knitting adults could sponsor a young knitters group to help each one knit one shawl for the ministry during the summer.

t Dorcas gave sewn clothes.  Miss Fannie gave her very best Ester hat.  Celebrate both gifts reading Miss Fannie’s Hat, by Jan Karon.  It is the story of 99 year old Miss Fannie who gives her favorite hat, her Easter hat, to a fund raising auction to repair the church.  On Easter she goes to church hatless for the first time and finds the church surrounded with flowers like those on her hat.  To shorten the story a bit consider omitting pages 6, 7, and 13, then jumping from the first sentence on page 18 to page 21.  Miss Fannie demonstrates that giving a loving gift is more important than having a pretty Easter hat. 

Psalm 23

Christ the Good Shepherd, from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
[retrieved March 15, 2013]. Original source: Wikimedia.
t Psalm 23 appears repeatedly in the lectionary.  Today it links to the Good Shepherd who calls the sheep by name in the gospel and protects those who wear robes washed in the blood of the Lamb in Revelation.  It is a great opportunity to share the first known painting of Christ which depicts him as a young strong shepherd.  It was painted by an unknown Christian in the catacombs under Rome.  In those days it was illegal to be Christian and Christians were thrown to the lions in the coliseum.  They were clearly among those wearing robes washed in the blood of the Lamb.  Imagine with worshipers walking quietly through the maze of tunnels lined with graves dug into the walls to meet a group of Christian friends at a certain grave to worship.  Listen for the clank of Roman armor and be ready to run if needed.  Note that in this situation people needed a strong good shepherd.

t There are many musical versions of Psalm 23.  Many, however, use the King James vocabulary that few children know.  Probably the first choice is “The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll Not Want” (Scottish Psalter) because the tune is familiar to the congregation and because the words are closest to today’s English.  “The Lord’s My Shepherd, All My Need” (Christopher L. Webber1986) has easier vocabulary but the tune is less familiar.  Finally, “He Leadeth Me, O Blessed Thought” is a meditation on the theme of the psalm with an easy to read and understand repeated chorus.  It is also a fact that each congregation has its favorite Psalm 23 hymn which is sung with a passion children hear.  If you select such a song knowing that children will have trouble with some of the vocabulary, in a brief introduction explain one or two key words or phrases before inviting the congregation to sing it.

t This YouTube video of Psalm 23 which presents the good shepherd as a woman is a good way to challenge worshipers of all ages to think of God’s shepherding in fresh ways and to honor Dorcas/Tabitha.  Go to Psalm 23 by Bobby McFerrin.

t Because many know it, love it, and so read it with feeling, have the congregation read this psalm in unison.  Print it in the bulletin or give worshipers time to find it in pew Bibles encouraging older children to read along.

t To link the psalm to the Revelation passage, identify all the scary stuff in the psalm – lack of food and water, wrong paths, the wolves and bears from which the shepherd’s rod and staff protect the sheep even as they feast on the grass, and the shadow of death.  Point out that Jesus the Good Shepherd does not make that scary stuff go away, but is with us in the middle of it.  Read the psalm together imagining yourselves with the Christians to whom Revelation was written worshiping in the catacombs under Rome.

Revelation 7:9-17

t This is a good text for congregational Bible study during worship.  Get worshipers to open the pew Bibles to the text.  Invite them to create in their minds a mental picture of the scene John is describing.  Stop as you read to add details and explain the significance of certain details.  Recall from last week that Lamb is a nickname for Jesus in Revelation.  When you get to the shouted phrases, shout them and then ask the whole congregation to shout them together to get the feel of the crowd shouting praise.  Ponder the fact that even when we face hard scary times, we are not alone.  We are part of the 144,000.  Illustrate the bowing with your whole body or at least with your arms.  Emphasize the conversation with the elder by turning in different directions to say each voice.  Explain the part about the white robes washed in the blood of the Lamb.  Finally, ponder John’s message that Christians can be brave during hard times because we know that there is a good ending.  Savor the promises in verses 15 – 17.   Then, reread the whole thing inviting worshipers to close their eyes and see in their heads what you are reading. 

t Cracking the key code for this week:  If you identified LAMB as a code name for Jesus last week, children may be able to figure out that the people who are who are wearing robes dipped in the blood of the Lamb are Jesus’ followers.  Help them make the connection by reminding them of the sweatshirts and caps worn by fans of athletic teams.  (Maybe bring or wear one of your own.)  Ask what story about Jesus has blood in it to begin unpacking why the robes are dipped in the blood of the Lamb.  Laugh about soldiers finding a copy of this book and trying to figure out why robes dipped in blood are white instead of red.  If you have this conversation just before reading the scripture, children will listen intently and get more of John’s message.

t Most children have to watch the ending of “The Wizard of Oz” many times before they can even stay in the room to watch the scary parts.  Once they trust the ending, they are not as frightened by the scary parts.  John was telling these Christians living in scary times that there is a good ending coming.  They can be brave knowing that.  (The same is true of Peter Pan, Harry Potter and any other book or story with really scary parts.)

John 10:22-30

t Verses 27-28 are the key verses of this text for children.  They say in straight words what the coded picture says in Revelation.  With older children read Revelation first and decode it. Then, turn to gospel.  Read these verses and note that they say the same thing.  Finally, ponder what John is saying to us today.  We are safe, even when things get really bad.  God still loves us and in the end we’ll be OK. 

t Use toy sheep, a cardboard pen and a small shepherd figure (maybe figures from a Christmas crèche?) to demonstrate the shepherd calling the sheep by name as they go out into the field to graze under the care of the shepherd and later return to the sheepfold. 

If your congregation uses the Young Children and Worship program, borrow the figures for “The Good Shepherd.”  Children who have been through the program will grasp more fully the program’s connection to worship in the sanctuary when they recognize this story that is told in both places.

t In “Babe” (full length DVD) there are several good shepherds.  Mr. Hoggett understands and cares for Babe, the runt piglet.   Fly, the sheepdog, comforts Babe as he settles into the barn and teaches him about the sheep.   Babe, the pig, is the main good shepherd.  The film ends with championship sheepdog trials.  In one scene, a dog herds the sheep by nipping at them.  Then Babe (the Good Shepherd) speaks to the sheep respectfully telling them what needs to be done and they do it.  It is a great illustration of the Good Shepherd speaking and the sheep responding.

t To focus on the conversation about whether Jesus is really the messiah in the first verses, remember that children are often told, “Pay attention!” or, “notice what is happening around you and act accordingly.”  In answer to the question about whether he is the messiah Jesus basically says, “Pay attention!  Even dumb sheep listen to their shepherd, but you have seen all the things I have done and still do not realize who I am.  Some (like the disciples) do pay attention and understand what is going on.  They follow me and I give them eternal life.”