FAITH the theme behind many of today’s texts is one of the big words in worship. It is also abstract and hard for adults to define. Introducing it well to children actually helps the adults well as the children. The key is that faith is not something we think but the way we live. It is more a verb than a noun. Faith is a lot like trust. When we trust our parents we jump into their arms in the swimming pool knowing they will catch us and we will be safe. When we trust God we follow God’s rules faithing that God is in charge and is working things out for good in the world. To explore this, try some of the following.
> Present a big poster or banner featuring FAITH at the beginning of worship. Before the call to worship give a brief definition of faith and challenge worshipers of all ages to listen carefully for what we sing, say and hear about FAITH in worship today. Give children markers to write FAITH in their bulletin every time they hear it or strips of small star stickers to use in marking the word as they hear it. Promise them that they will know why the stickers are stars when they hear a story about Abraham, Sarah and lots of stars. As children leave the sanctuary, comment on well-marked or stickered bulletins.
> Talk about people we trust and don’t trust such as the people who make our cars or bicycles, teachers or coaches, people who make and deliver food we eat, the person who dares us to do something dangerous. From there talk about trusting that God is in charge of the world and loves us and is working to make the world a better place for everyone. Because we trust God to do those things we try to follow God’s rules and be part of building the better world. That is living on FAITH or FAITHFULLY.
> Storypath suggests reading the story of Jojofu, by Michael P. Waite, paired with today’s gospel parable as a way to urge children to be as alert and on guard as Jojofu was. Because Jojofu was a hunting dog who saved his master 3 times as they hunted together, I fear the message for children will be that we need to protect God like Jojofu protected the hunter. Given that I would read it as a story about the hunter’s faith in his dog and urge listeners to have faith in or trust God like the hunter learned to have faith in or trust his dog. The dog saves the hunter 3 times, but for the sake of time it would be possible to read only the beginning and one of three rescues. BTW the name Jojofu means “heroine.”
> The Olympics start this week and many congregations will celebrate Communion! As the last Olympics began, an anonymous commenter suggested that while celebrating the Eucharist during the Olympics we could use breads from around the world. There are several interesting ways to develop that possibility.
1. Compare pictures of several of the athletes identifying what is the same and different about each one – skin color, body shapes that go with different sports, etc. Note that all of them have to eat and most eat some kind of bread. Display a variety of world breads and link them to the different athletes. Celebrate God’s big world - wide family.
2. Compare the athletes eating at their training tables to excel at their sport with Christians around the world eating at the Communion table to excel as disciples. Make this comparison for the older children (think fifth and sixth graders) who are much more likely than the younger ones to grasp it.
The Texts for the Day
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
> Before reading Isaiah’s message make two lists. First list for worshipers all the worship terms in the text briefly noting how they were part of worship in that day: sacrifices, burnt offerings of rams, blood of bulls, Sabbaths, new moon festivals, and incense. Next list things that are part of your usual worship: banners, music, choirs, beautiful prayers, scripture readings, offerings, even sermons. Only then challenge worshipers to listen for what Isaiah was saying to people worshiping at the Temple in his day AND to us worshiping here today.
To be more dramatic have someone interrupt after the reading from the Bible by walking down the center aisle to deliver the same message replacing Isaiah’s list of what happened in worship in his day with one reflective of worship today.
> Isaiah’s message is that our lives beyond the sanctuary should match what we pray and sing inside it. In a fairly outrageous description of people whose church going did not match their lives outside of the building, Mark Twain (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Chapter 18) tells of the Gangerford and Shepherdson families who brought their guns to church holding them between their knees while listening to a sermon about brotherly love and leaving to carry on their blood feud immediately after worship services ended.
> There are two good quotes to lift from Isaiah today:
Just after the prayer of confession, add “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow.” to the display of prophet quotes.
Maybe as the Charge before the benediction, add “Learn to do good. Seek justice.” to the display before pronouncing the benediction. Ask someone to process it up the central aisle as you announce it to the congregation.
> Forbid Them Not (Yr C) includes a prayer of confession in which the choir, ushers, preachers, and the congregation confess ways it is easier to be a worship leader than to do those jobs every day.
> The Charge and Benediction are the gate between what we do in the sanctuary and the way we live in the world. Point this out before pronouncing them at the end of the service. List a few of the themes and events of the service. Charge worshipers not to forget them when they walk out the door, but to remember them every day this week and to try to live like they believe them. Then promise worshipers that hard as this is on some days, doing this is possible because God is with them always. (This could be a children’s time at the end of the service with the children echoing phrases of the charge and benediction as the worship leader says them.)
> Verses 16-17 are one kernel that can be explored with children IF the generalities are first translated into language children understand.
To seek justice for children means to play fair. Children are quick to cry “that’s not fair!” That cry can be both affirmed and also directed. Children can be encouraged to notice when someone other than themselves is being unfairly treated. They can even be challenged to seek justice for others when it might not benefit them, e.g. when we are invited to sit with friends at lunch, but someone else is told to go away or insisting that everyone gets a turn before we get a second turn – even when we are the biggest and oldest in the group.
“The oppressed” who children meet regularly are the kids who are always chosen last for games, who everyone laughs at, who dress oddly, who bring different food to lunch, who have trouble with English, who are slow students at school, etc.
“Though your sins be as scarlet…”
> If your congregation frequently prays prayers of confession that use language about sins being scarlet, then washed white as snow, it is a good day for some worship education about that phrase. Begin with talk about the color red. Cite several other names for red such as maroon, rose, ruby, burgundy, poppy, and cardinal being sure to include scarlet and crimson.
Since most children like red, they don’t understand what is so bad about “my sins be as scarlet.” To help them get it, talk about murder as maybe the worst sin you can do. Imagine with the children a murderer with blood dripping from his or her hands. Then reread the phrase about scarlet going on to the promise “they shall be white as snow.” Remind worshipers how white, white, white fresh snow is and how different it is from bloody scarlet. Then put the whole phrase into less colorful words, “there is no sin so bad, that I will not forgive you when you say you are sorry.” If you will pray one of the traditional prayers of confession featuring this phrase, read the prayer and translate it into such words. Then pray the prayer together.
> If it is Back to School Sunday, blessing the backpacks is a great way to emphasize the connection between worship and daily living. Go to HERE for specific suggestions. One way to include more than just children in this is to invite everyone to bring something they carry every day (backpacks, briefcases, laptops, purses, even diaper bags) to this service to be blessed. If this week is a little early for students to have book bags ready, consider swapping this week’s texts with those for the Sunday before everyone goes back to school.
Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23
This psalm is very like Isaiah’s message. The way it is presented makes it harder for children to understand. The omission of vv. 9-21 may work for those who know all about Temple worship, but it leaves children in the dust. And, even if you read the entire psalm children may get the idea that God didn’t need the sacrificed animals, but they can hardly get from that idea to what it says about worship today.
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> Many children today have little experience with sitting under starry skies. There is just too much light. But, they do have a keener sense of our place in a universe of stars than earlier children had. So before reading this story, have a brief starry night experience. Project pictures from NASA space photos or a clip from the HUBBLE video that give a sense of the vastness of the universe and the numbers of the stars.
> Children (and many adults) need a fuller telling of Abraham’s story than these six verse provide. Try something like this.
God told Abraham to pack up his family and leave his home for “a land I will show you.” God also promised Abraham and Sarah that though they were already really old they would have a son and that son would have children and those children would have children until there was a huge family that “would bless all the earth.” With these two promises Sarah and Abraham packed up all their stuff, said good-by to their family and friends knowing they’d probably never see them again and started out across the wilderness. God did give them one thing they could see as a reminder of the promise. That was all the stars in the sky. God told them, “Try to count to stars in the sky. You can’t, can you. Your family will one day have as many children in it as there are stars in the sky.” Abraham and Sarah kept moving and waited for the baby. It was hard to keep believing it was true. When they were 100 years old and were told that Sarah would have the baby that year, Sarah laughed. But, she had the baby and she happily named him Isaac which means “Laughter”. They did love their little Isaac. And, they still wondered about the children and grandchildren he would have. Finally, they died. While they were alive, they never owned the land God promised to their family and never saw more of the huge family than their one son. Still, they still believed it would come. They knew it deep inside themselves. They counted on it. They lived like it was true.
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> After reading this story. Give the children shiny star stickers that they can put on the inside cover of their notebook, inside their locker, or on a flap on their backpack as a reminder that they are part of God’s huge family. As you give them the stickers insist to the children that they are loved always (even when it doesn’t feel like it at the moment) and that they are called to live like Gods people/stars.
> Just after the presidential conventions in the US, particularly in this year’s race, this psalm is an opportunity to put things in perspective for both children and adults. Before reading the psalm ask, “Who is more important, God or the President?” Ponder the fact that it is easy to forget the answer in the middle of an election. Note that the psalmist was comparing God to a king, which is a lots like comparing God to the President. Only then read the psalm.
> To make the message of the psalm clearer for children read it with one reader describing the Lord, a second reader describing the King, and the congregation opening and closing the reading with statements about trusting God.
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Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord;
happy are the people he has chosen for his own!
The Lord looks down from heaven
and sees the whole human race.
From where he rules, he looks down
on all who live on earth.
He forms all their thoughts
and knows everything they do.
A king does not win because of his powerful army;
a soldier does not triumph because of his strength.
War horses are useless for victory;
their great strength cannot save.
The Lord watches over those who obey him,
those who trust in his constant love.
He saves them from death;
he keeps them alive in times of famine.
We put our hope in the Lord;
he is our protector and our help.
We are glad because of him;
we trust in his holy name.
May your constant love be with us, Lord,
as we put our hope in you.
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Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
> Paul assumes that all his readers know the story of Abraham in detail. Most children (and many adults) do not and will need a condensed version of Abraham’s story maybe just before this passage is read in worship. Use the one printed above in the Genesis section.
> The secret that the fox told the boy in The Little Prince , by Antoine de Saint Exupery, was “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” That may be close to the heart of this text for children. The things we cannot see are more important than the ones we can see. It’s the invisible things (e.g. love and faith) that shape our lives.
> As an example, describe a sports team (maybe an Olympic team) that believes it will win the championship this year. They know they are good and love playing the games together. Because they want to win that championship so badly, they practice hard. When they win games, they cheer loudly not only because they just won a game, but because they are that much closer to the championship. When they lose a game, they think carefully about everything they did wrong and make plans to avoid doing those things in the next game. After all if they are going to be champions they must play like champions. Nothing they can see or touch or hear or smell proves that they will be champions, but they hope they will. They believe they will. They work hard so that their championship will come true.
> Younger children will only grasp that things we cannot see are important and shape our lives. Older children may be ready to explore the words “faith” and “believe,” something that is not seen, but shapes our lives in the most important ways. The sports team believed they were champions. That is faith. Abraham and Sarah believed that God was going to make their family huge and make them a blessing to all the earth. That is faith. We believe that we are God’s children and that God loves us and has work for us to do. That is faith, too.
> The Roman Catholic lectionary offers as an alternate reading only verses 35-40 which focuses on watchful waiting, i.e. being ready to respond as Abraham did with faith. This more focused reading is easier for children to follow.
> To help children separate the three alert servants, ask three people to come forward with their props and stand facing away from the congregation. As their turn comes each turns to face the congregation and follow the italicized directions below.
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Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those (first person picks up lantern and steps forward watching out toward the congregation) who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves (second person lifts a candle and stands ready with a towel over one arm) whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
“But know this: if the owner of the house (third person picks up big flashlight and shines it just over the heads of the congregation with a serious facial expression and maybe shading his eyes with a hand) had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You (narrator points to congregation as this is read) also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
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> Most children are in their last days of summer vacation. Summer no longer looks endless. The return to school is on the horizon and many are focused on getting in as much freedom and “summer” as they can before it ends. (This is true whether they are looking forward to or dreading going back to school.) To them this text says, even at the end of summer, you are on the job as God’s disciples. Just as God is with us always loving us, taking care of us, forgiving us when we need it, so God expects us to be with God always living like God’s children. That means that at the swimming pool, in the back seat of the car on that last trip to the beach or mountains, even when there is nothing to do at home, you are still Jesus’ disciple. You need to be Jesus’ hands and feet taking care of people around you, being kind and loving (even when you don’t feel like it), and even forgiving brothers, sisters and friends when they need it.
> In the congregation’s prayers, include prayers for the last days of summer vacation. Pray for safe and happy trips that draw us closer to each other. Pray for alertness to the needs of people around us and the wisdom to find ways to take care of those who need our care.
> The Greatest Treasure, by Demi, tells of a man who almost lost his treasure when he was given a hoard that was really not a treasure at all. It reads aloud in 6 - 7 minutes and is a great meditation on Luke 12:34. Go to HERE last week for a summary of the story.
Back to School !
There are several suggestions in this post connecting these texts to themes children focus on in the days when they are getting ready to go back to school. Go to HERE for more general ideas about this important season in the lives of young worshipers.