> As we move into Ordinary Time Year C has us reading from the Old Testament prophets. Tying at least some of the readings together with banners or displays of reminders of their messages is one way to draw children to the messages. There at least two possibilities.
1. Make a banner to which you add key phrases from all the prophets between now and Advent. Title it “Prophets Speak” or “Thus says the Lord.” There will not be enough space to add a phrase for every week, but you could add one key phrase from each of the prophets. Put the phrases in speech bubbles and include the prophet’s name in a color other that the phrase.
2. Make a banner or display for either Elijah who is read for 5 Sundays or Jeremiah who is read 8 times (9 if you count the Christ the King reading). Add an object that recalls the story read as it is read each week. Go HERE for a summary and watch for detailed suggestions about this in the weekly posts. For example, there is an introduction to an Elijah’s chair display under 1 Kings below.
> There are at least two possible themes in today’s texts that speak to children.
The people in the Elijah story and in the churches of Galatia need help making and sticking with choices. Both groups tend to go this way one day and that way another depending on what felt right at the time. They needed to know what was right and wrong and do it, always. During the summer, many children are a bit more on their own and so face more choices than they do during the structured school year. Things happen in the back room, at the pool, on the sports field, even in the back seat of the van that require they make choices. These stories challenge them to choose wisely.
The people in the Elijah story needed to learn to trust God as much as the centurion did in the gospel story. (Though it is tempting to use the word FAITH here, TRUST is really more on target and also saves the word FAITH for one of the future weeks of Galatians readings.)
> Summer could be a good time to focus on important faith words – like TRUST or CHOOSE. Rather than committing to an every Sunday word series which might get old, undertake “an occasional series” of words. Before the call to worship of each service featuring a word, display a poster or banner with the word printed in large letters and maybe some decorations. Briefly say it, spell it, define it and encourage worshipers to listen for it in stories, songs, and prayers. This may be done like the sponsorships at the beginning of Sesame Street, e.g. today “our worship today is brought to us by the word TRUST. T-R-U-S-T, trust. Trust is what you do when you jump from the side of the pool into the arms of an older friend who has promised to catch you. TRUST is deciding to do what a coach asks, even when it is a little scary. TRUST is doing what you think is right even when friends around you are not. At the end of our lives TRUST is dying knowing that God will be with us always. Listen today for a story about a soldier who trusted Jesus and for the word TRUST in our songs and prayers.”
The Texts for the Day
1 Kings 18:20-21, (22-29), 30-39
> This story is calls for listeners with good imaginations. To encourage worshipers to listen with their whole imaginations, introduce the story by describing the situation. Then ask listeners to close their eyes and try to see what is happening as you read. Read dramatically, even interrupting yourself to make points like “It almost sounds like Elijah built two altars here, but there was only one altar made with 12 big rocks. Can you see it in your head?” or add information “These were not little peanut butter jars. They were big water jars that held maybe 6 or 7 gallons of water each. That is a lot of water! Listen for what Elijah did with all that water.” Use your voice to contrast all the frantic action of the priests with Elijah’s quiet, deliberate action and prayer. With one big swoop of your arm illustrate the fire coming down on Elijah’s offering. (One way to encourage yourself to be dramatic is to invite the children forward to sit with you as you read the story from the big Bible. Sometimes their presence, even with closed eyes, frees us adults up to get more fully into the drama of the story.)
> Another way to encourage children to listen to the story, is to give them paper and crayons with which to draw as they listen. Before starting the reading tell them they are going to need wood brown, stone gray, and all the firey colors they have – maybe red, yellow and orange -to draw this story. Encourage them to work on their pictures as you explore the story in the sermon, then to show their pictures to you either at the door as they leave or by coming up front to talk to you as the offering plates are passed.
> Very few people can connect all the stories about Elijah into one story. Over the next 5 weeks the lectionary directs us to many of those stories. When this happened in 2013 Becky Arnell Downs commented that she was going to make an Elijah display to which items related to each story would be added as they were read. If you do this, begin by introducing Elijah as one of the most famous prophets in the Old Testament. Briefly tell of the Jewish custom of leaving an empty chair at the Seder table for Elijah should he return that night. Then position an “Elijah’s Chair” where it can stay for the remainder of the Elijah sequence. After reading the story today, build a small fire in the seat using several large sticks to which construction paper or colored foil flames have been taped. Watch the coming posts for suggestions for objects to add for each story read.
> If you are starting a banner of quotes from this summer’s prophets, add “If the Lord is God, follow him” to recall Elijah standing up to all the priests of baal and the people who were following them.
> Remember that children like adults are a bit jealous of the people in this story. They wish God did such fantastic things that they could see today. They feel better about wishing this when they hear that adults share the wish. If you read both this story and the gospel story, you can point out that the centurion did not need anything fancy to make him trust Jesus. The challenge to us is to be more like the trusting centurion and less like the wishy-washy people of Elijah’s time.
J STORYPATH takes us to a place few preachers would go with this story unless they had read Those Shoes, by Maribeth Boelts. In the book Jeremy desperately wants a pair of the black tennis shoes with two white stripes that all the kids are sporting that year. He finally buys a pair at a thrift shop with his own money – even though they are too small. But when he notices that the only other boy in the class without the cool shoes has tape falling off his old shoes and that his feet are just a little smaller than his, he drops the shoes on the boy’s steps, rings the bell and runs. The connection to Elijah is that there were 400 priests leading all the people in worshiping idols. Elijah was the only one who did not join in. Instead he stood up to EVERYONE because he knew that worshiping God was the right thing to do. As summer comes children will have lots of chances to refuse to go along with crowd on what they wear, how they treat others, and what they do (even as an experiment or on a dare). The challenge is to be as brave as Elijah and as loving as Jeremy in standing up to EVERYONE ELSE.
Psalm 96: 1-13 or just verses 1-9
> To keep the focus on God’s power in the Elijah and/or gospel stories, read only verses 1-9. To recall God’s work in creation as summer begins, read the entire psalm. No matter how many verses you read, do not read them with “inside voices.” Instead challenge all readers to read them with “loud, happy outside voices.” The script below calls for three groups of readers – a leader, the choir, and the people. (The last two groups could be different parts of the congregation if there is no choir.) Before reading, practice the first line together reading it loudly to fill the heavens with your praise. (If the leader and choir set the volume up, the congregation will follow. A brief rehearsal or conversation with the choir before the service might help.)
Psalm 96: 1-9,10-13
Leader: O sing to the Lord a new song;
Choir: Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
People: Sing to the Lord, bless the Lord’s name;
tell of God’s salvation from day to day.
Leader: Declare the glory of the Lord among the nations,
and God’s marvelous works
among all the peoples.
among all the peoples.
Choir: For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
The Lord is to be revered above all gods.
People: For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
Leader: Oh, the honor and majesty of the Lord’s presence!
Oh, the strength and beauty of God’s sanctuary!
Choir: Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
People: Ascribe to the Lord the glory due God’s name;
bring an offering,
and come into the courts of the Lord.
and come into the courts of the Lord.
Leader: Worship the Lord in holy splendor;
tremble before God, all the earth.
Choir: Say among the nations, “The Lord is king!
People: The world is firmly established;
it shall never be moved.
it shall never be moved.
The Lord will judge the peoples with equity.”
Leader: Let the heavens be glad,
Choir: Let the earth rejoice;
People: Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
Leader: Let the field exult, and everything in it.
Choir: Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord; for the Lord is coming,
for God is coming to judge the earth.
All: The Lord will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with truth.
Based on the New Revised Standard Version and
The Book of Common Worship (PCUSA)
|This may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes.|
> The psalm leads to singing praise hymns . Sing Earth and All Stars which repeats the psalmist’s call for praise from some very modern things, like pounding hammers and loud boiling test tubes. The language is concrete and simple, but even slow readers can join in on the repeated “sing to the lord a new song.” Or, give young worshipers illustrated word sheets for I Sing the Mighty Power of God to help them pay attention to all the things God has created as they sing.
1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43
> If the gospel is read first, adults will catch the connection between the story of the centurion and Solomon’s words about the treatment of foreigners. Children will not. They will do better to focus on the gospel story.
> Solomon’s prayer and the gospel story about Jesus healing the foreigner’s slave may lead courageous worship leaders to explore issues related to immigration. For adults, especially this year, this is a complex “hot” topic. For, children it mainly deals with how they interact with the young immigrants they all encounter at school and in the community. So, the challenge for children is simpler. We want to teach them to treat those children with respect and to help them as they confront the difficulties of new language and culture. See some of the ideas and suggested children’s books for the gospel below.
> Display a large map of Galatia and point to some of the churches in the region. Paul does not identify any churches by name. But, it would be possible to point out several churches whose stories from Acts might be familiar to your congregation. The purpose is to help listeners hear this as a real letter to real people.
> Print this text on stationary folded and sealed in an envelope. At the time for reading scripture announce, “We have mail.” Briefly, describe how letters were written and delivered in those days. Note that letters were read aloud repeatedly and saved carefully. Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia were passed from church to church. Compare that to the disposable, terse nature of today’s emails and text messages. Call worshipers to imagine themselves receiving this letter and gathering to read it. Then, open the envelope, unfold the paper, and read it as if reading a letter. Show your pleasure at the greeting and your dismay as Paul lambasts the readers. Talk about how it felt, then begin exploring what was going on in the churches of Galatia and what Paul wanted them to do about it.
> To emphasize both Paul’s and Elijah’s calls to say what we believe, present the Apostles’ Creed or other affirmation of faith as a series of questions, e.g. “Do you believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth” to which worshipers reply “Yes, we believe that!” or “Yes, we believe….repeat with each phrase.”
> Though this is a fairly short straight-forward story, children easily misunderstand one part of it. They frequently hear that the soldier was so used to giving orders and having people obey him, that he ordered Jesus to heal his servant and expected him to obey, too. This seems way too bossy and children are amazed that Jesus does obey. So, they need to hear that what the soldier said to Jesus, “when I give a command to my men they do it. So, I know that if you command the disease in my servant to go away, it will. You are that powerful.” Children also appreciate that the soldier did not need Jesus to do anything fancy or even come into his house in order heal his servant. He trusted Jesus to do it any way he wanted to.
> STORY PATH sends us to two books that explore the relationship between the centurion, the Jewish community and Jesus.
Albert the Fix-It Man, by Janet Lord, is a parallel story that calls us to pay more attention to the centurion’s relationship with his community. Albert fixes things for his neighbors before they ask. In return his neighbors take care of him when he catches a bad cold. The centurion helps his neighbors build a synagogue to worship God. In return, his neighbors ask Jesus to heal the sick slave he loved. Because he was a foreign soldier, the centurion could have been a hated outsider, but because he acted like a good neighbor he was a loved and respected member of the community. This is not the main point of this story, but exploring it can enrich the story for everyone.
Explore the possibility that someone we think is our enemy may be our friend by reading about a mouse who had heard that Snake was dangerous for mice and was surprised that it was Snake who rescued him when he fell down a hole and hurt his foot. Help!, by Holy Keller, is a simple fable that parallels the story of the centurion who might have expected Jesus to be his enemy, but trusted him enough to ask his friends to go to Jesus for healing for his slave. The book can be read aloud in 4 minutes and includes wonderful easy-to-see-from-a-distance art.
> The centurion trusted Jesus to heal his slave. There are two children’s stories about Adam and Eve facing the first night and in the process learning to trust.
Adam and Eve’s First Sunset, by Sandy Sasso, is a picture book that can be read in about 6 minutes. Adam and Eve alarmed as the sun sets for the first time do all sorts of things to try to stop it, blame each other for it, and finally admit they are unable to do anything about it. God teaches them how to make fire to get through the night, but that does not solve all the problems. At last the sun rises again and they are relieved and bless both day and night. (To shorten the reading, omit the pages about fire.)
The First New Year is a short story in Does God Have a Big Toe?, by Mark Gellman. In it Adam and the animals are frightened when the sun sets, then relieved when it rises the next morning. That night they try to stop it when it begins to set again. God explains about days, weeks, months, and a year. It would be possible to stop reading after this explanation (about 3 minutes into the story). Or, keep reading to learn about Adam’s panic when he realized that he had come to the end of the year and God’s explanation of decades, centuries, and millenia. (The whole story can be read aloud in about 7 minutes.) It concludes “When Adam woke up, he smelled the flowers, heard the birds singing, and thanked God for making time way big enough.” Knowing that God makes everything “way big enough” and has “way big enough” power and love to meet any situation is why we can trust God. The centurion might have said, “Jesus, your power is ‘way big enough’ to heal my slave from wherever you are. You don’t have to come to my house and touch him.” (There are no illustrations with this story.)
> See notes about TRUST as the word of the day at the beginning of this post.
J J J J J J J J J J J J J J J
> And again, a reminder that the end of the school year is hugely important to your children. So, go HERE for ideas for recognizing it in the congregation’s worship on the appropriate Sunday.