In the USA depending on where you are, this last Sunday of August could be a really quiet end of summer Sunday or a really big Back to School Sunday. If it is a quiet Sunday today’s texts will probably do the job. But if you are looking for worship that will draw families with school age children, you might also want to revisit last Sunday’s texts HERE which have much more to offer and some of the general Back to School ideas HERE.
If children are to follow this prophecy at all they need a very brief history lesson and a dramatic reading.
> The history lesson needs to be no more than “When God’s people were slaves in Egypt, God rescued them and led them across the desert to a wonderful land that was rich and green. Unfortunately, they did not settle into this new home worshiping God and following the rules God had given them while they were making the trip. Listen to the Prophet Jeremiah telling them what God thinks of that.”
> To bring Jeremiah’s prophecy to life, the usual liturgist introduces the text and reads verse 4. A second reader takes over reading God’s complaint with as much drama as possible. To avoid interrupting God’s message omit verse 9 and 10 and “the Lord says” in verse 12. The script below does this based on the TEV.
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Jeremiah 2:4 -8, 11-14
Reader 1: Listen to the Lord’s message, you descendants of Jacob, you tribes of Israel. The Lord says:
Reader 2: “What accusation did your ancestors bring against me?
What made them turn away from me?
They worshipped worthless idols
and became worthless themselves.
They did not care about me,
even though I rescued them from Egypt
and led them through the wilderness:
a land of deserts and sand dunes,
a dry and dangerous land
where no one lives
and no one will even travel.
I brought them into a fertile land,
to enjoy its harvests and its other good things.
But instead they ruined my land;
they defiled the country I had given them.
The priests did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord?’
My own priests did not know me.
The rulers rebelled against me;
the prophets spoke in the name of Baal
and worshipped useless idols.
No other nation has ever changed its gods,
even though they were not real.
But my people have exchanged me,
the God who has brought them honour,
for gods that can do nothing for them.
And so I command the sky to shake with horror,
to be amazed and astonished,
for my people have committed two sins:
they have turned away from me,
the spring of fresh water,
and they have dug cisterns,
cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all."
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> Unpack God’s accusation in verse 13 by illustrating it. Insist that God’s people had a choice. Display an electric water fountain or photo of a fountain in a pool and a cracked bowl (maybe a plastic bowl that has been cut with scissors in advance) into which you can pour water that will run straight through. Ask which one would be best to depend on for getting water to drink. Laugh at the possibility of drinking from a bowl that holds no water. Then, remind listeners that Jeremiah said no one was living by God’s way or worshiping God. Put the failure of the priests, the rulers, and the prophets into your own words. Note that Jeremiah was telling the people that the way they were living was as dumb as trying to drink from a cracked bowl when you have a bubbling fountain right there. (The TEV offers one of the clearest translations of these verses for children to follow.
This might be a good day to place a bubbling fountain in a prominent place where it can be heard throughout worship.
Psalm 81:1, 10-16
This psalm echoes Jeremiah’s prophecy. It is fine for Bible students who can get all the references to life in the wilderness. But, children do not get them. They have an easier time with Jeremiah’s form of the message.
These verses add the word pride to the gospel and epistle discussion about status. For adults it makes sense. But, children generally hear pride used as a good thing. “We want you to be proud of yourself.” “We were so proud of the way you did….” Rather than try to explain this different use of the word, read from some of the other related texts.
This concise proverb echoes Jesus parable about taking too high a place at the table. Adults quickly catch the comparison. Children however need help seeing how standing up in the king’s court is like sitting to high at the table. Since the proverb does not add much new, I’d skip it and all that explaining.
> This psalm is a collection of sayings about good people. To help children hear the separate sayings, have the psalm read by a minimum of two readers so that each saying is read by a new voice. Two readers would alternate reading either odd or even numbered parts. Or, a class of as many as ten older children could read with each taking one or more parts. Or, a family could be the readers with each member reading several times.
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All Readers: Praise the Lord!
Reader 1: Happy is the person who honours the Lord,
who takes pleasure in obeying his commands.
Reader 2: The good man’s children will be powerful in the land;
his descendants will be blessed.
Reader 3: His family will be wealthy and rich,
and he will be prosperous forever.
Reader 4: Light shines in the darkness for good people,
for those who are merciful, kind, and just.
Reader 5: Happy is the person who is generous with his loans,
who runs his business honestly.
Reader 6: A good person will never fail;
he will always be remembered.
Reader 7: He is not afraid of receiving bad news;
his faith is strong, and he trusts in the Lord.
Reader 8: He is not worried or afraid;
he is certain to see his enemies defeated.
Reader 9: He gives generously to the needy,
and his kindness never fails;
he will be powerful and respected.
Reader 10: The wicked see this and are angry;
they glare in hate and disappear;
their hopes are gone forever.
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Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
> This is in many ways the preacher’s abstract presentation of the message Jesus presented in the gospel parables. Children respond more readily to the parables. It would however be possible to present this and/or Psalm 112 as pictures of a person who gets Jesus message and the Jeremiah text as a picture of a nation that did not.
> The unspoken word here and the briefly mentioned word in the gospel parables is humility. To introduce that word begin with its root word humus – or soil. Display a bucket of rich soil. Run your hands through it noting that it is just dirt, but that it is dark and rich. Things can grow in it. The Bible says that at creation God made Adam and Eve from the soil. That means every one of us is just dirt. Name some famous, laudable people noting that they are “just dirt.” Name some despicable people and insist that they are also “just dirt.” Name a couple of worshipers including yourself and say each one is “just dirt.” Suggest that knowing this helps us remember we are just dirt and helps us treat all other people we meet as just like us. Conclude that this is what it means to be humble.
This could be a children’s sermon, part of the real sermon, or the introduction to a prayer of confession in which worshipers recall ways we delude ourselves about how special we are.
Luke 14:1, 7-14
> Children will have trouble separating the two parables in this one reading. To help them, present it with two readers. The liturgist introduces the text and reads verses 1, 7 and 12a. Another reader takes Jesus’ place reading the two parables (vss. 8-11 and 12b-14). Point out before reading that one of Jesus’ stories is for the guests and the other is for the host.
> These parables are less about manners and more about status and pecking orders. At the beginning of the school year children face serious questions about their status as groups are assigned, teams formed and friendships circle up. Even first graders quickly realize that some of the reading and math groups are for the smart kids and others are for slower kids. Some children struggle with the significance of being in Special Ed or Gifted and Talented classes. Then there is who is picked first and last for sports teams and who can find a good place to sit in the lunchroom or on the bus. It is easy for children to let their position in any of these pecking orders define their sense of self-worth. Jesus insists that everyone is worthy of coming to the party in God’s eyes. That is both good news and a challenge to children. It is not easy to believe that you are neither as good as nor better than those who are in other groups. Jesus urges children both to remember they are always welcome at God’s table no matter what and to get to know those children in other groups and make them feel OK and welcome too.
Another example of status is the groups children are often tested into at swimming pools. The beginning swimmers are often dubbed minnows. The advanced swimmers are sharks. Discuss this noting how it feels to be a minnow or a shark. Ask whether a shark would ever consider playing with a minnow in the shallow end of the pool. Ponder together what Jesus would say to sharks and minnows in a swimming pool. (Because the swimming season is coming to an end in the northern hemisphere, it is easier for children to reflect on what has been than it would be to challenge them about what lies ahead.)
> The last verse of The Servant Song repeats the first. Before singing them (and the rest of the song) list the kinds of people we often encounter at school – teachers, people who are smarter than you or behind you, the bus driver, good friends, new kids, etc. Encourage children to think of specific people they will meet this week. Then, challenge them to sing at least the first and last verses for those people.
> At the beginning of the sermon or just before reading the gospel, challenge worshipers of all ages to make a list of 5 people they would invite to a special birthday party (if they are children), to share concert tickets (if they are teenagers), or to go out to a fine dinner (if they are adults). Later in the sermon ask them to identify 2 people in their class, office or neighborhood who never get invited to anything. Urge them to imagine asking those people to their party. How would it change things at the party? What would it mean to the person invited?
IF you do this remember that this message of Jesus is harder for children than it is for adults because children host so many fewer parties and have much more strictly limited guest lists.
> Yertle, the Turtle, by Dr. Seuss, tells of King Yertle the Turtle who grew dissatisfied with his throne and began insisting that he stand atop a growing tower of turtles. The ones at the bottom beg for relief but are ignored by Yertle until Max, the turtle at the very bottom, burped in disgust sending the whole tower into free fall and making Yertle the King of the Mud. Read it to explore the stupidity of trying to improve your position by standing on and/or hurting others.
> In I am the Best, by Lucy Cousins, Dog lists one way he is better than each of his friends Mole, Duck, Donkey, and Ladybug, concluding each statement with “I’m the Best!” The friends then point out that each of them can do one of those same things better than he can. Dog is sad and sadder until they assure him that he is still their best friend and has the best fluffy ears. Read the story to insist that being friends is more important than being better than each other. (I might omit the final page which indicates that Dog still did not get it.) Thanks to Storypath for this book.
If you celebrate communion today, there are several ways to connect this table to the tables in Jesus’ parables:
> Highlight the usual welcome that states who is welcome at the Table. In addition to saying the words, list who is “in” including specific groups. If children do not come to the Table until a set age or come but receive a blessing instead of the elements, note this and explain why. If any will be coming to the Table for the first time day, name them and welcome them.
> To explore this most fully, bring a set of photographs of very different people. As you display each one of them, ask “Is this person welcome at the Jesus’ Table?” While appreciating hesitations about some very different looking people, insist that all of them are welcome. (National Geographic is a good source of such pictures.)
> Before singing “I Come with Joy” as a communion hymn, point out the first phrase “I come with joy to meet my Lord, forgiven” noting that we each one come to the Table as forgiven sinners. Then read verse 2 “I come with Christians far and near…” and note that all are welcome at this Table because all are forgiven sinners. No one sits higher or lower at this Table. We all gather around it together.
Back to School !
There are a few Back to School ideas here, but not many. For more general ideas for recognizing the return to school in the congregation’s worship, go HERE.