Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Year A - The First Sunday in Lent (March 13, 2011)

The texts for the first Sunday of Lent this year really do repeat the themes of Ash Wednesday – which may be good for all those who did not worship on Ash Wednesday.  You might want to review the ideas from the Ash Wednesday post to find some ideas that would transfer to Sunday.

TEMPTATION             SIN                 FORGIVENESS                   GRACE

If you have verbal announcements at the beginning of the service, make the last announcement an introduction to today’s theme.  Sesame Street often begins “Today’s show is brought to you by the letter …”  So, today announce that today’s worship is brought to us by the words sin, temptation, and forgiveness (or whatever your key words will be).  Have older children each holding a poster bearing one of the words over their heads, stand at the front of the sanctuary.  (Print the word/s about sin or temptation in heavy black and the word/s about forgiveness or grace in gold glitter.)  Briefly introduce these key words and encourage worshipers to watch and listen for them as you sing, pray, and read together.  Encourage children to underline or circle each word every time they find it in their bulletin.  The poster bearers may take their posters back to their seats with them or may leave them displayed at the front of the sanctuary.

This is a good strategy for any Sunday that has is built around a key worship word.  It works especially well for this Sunday.

There are several opportunities for worship education today.  One is to explore the phrase “lead us not in to temptation, but deliver us from evil” in the Lord’s Prayer.  This is one of the last phrases of the prayer for children to understand.  The Ecumenical version’s ”save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil” is not much easier.  The key is knowing what temptation is and having in mind some examples of temptations with which you are familiar.  Common examples for children include
a plate of cookies on the counter,
> an iced cake on the counter (no one would notice if you took one little finger-full
   of it),
> an item (maybe a cool jacket or iPod?) left unattended, or
> the student in the next desk has left his work uncovered where you can hardly
   help but see his/her answers. 
After describing one of these situations, point out that sometimes you see what’s there and just automatically do the right thing without even thinking about it.  But other times….   Describe how you want to have or do what you know you should not and how you rationalize your way into doing it.  Ponder the difference between those two reactions to the same situation.  Then put “lead us not into temptation” into your own words – something like “God, help me know what is right and wrong and be able to do what is right without even thinking about it.” 

This could be an introduction to the Old Testament and Gospels for the day.  If so, conclude it by encouraging children to listen to two stories about people in the Bible who really were tempted.

Gen 2:15-17, 3:1-7

Children, who are constantly pushed to take responsibility for their own actions, are puzzled by claims that Adam’ and Eve’s bad choice to eat the apple affects them.  They are more interested in exploring the story about how Adam and Eve made that bad choice.  Take time to explore each step Eve takes as she allows herself to be tempted by the snake and even draws Adam into her sin.  Then compare Adam and Eve’s apple temptation to tempting situations children face today.  (See the list in the paragraph above about the Lord’s Prayer.)

Instead of or in addition to telling the story of the Fall, read the story of the first sin between brothers.  Cain and Abel: Finding the Fruits of Peace, by Sandy Sasso, tells the story of Cain and Abel in poetic terms that make sense to both adults and children.  It could be read as a children’s sermon or as part of the “real” sermon.  The art could be shared with a small group of children.  Or, the book could be read without sharing the art to a larger group.  (Read aloud time: about 8 minutes) 
     FYI – The story of this murder does not appear in the New Revised Common Lectionary.  I wonder why?

Psalm 32

Here is another golden opportunity for a little worship education about the prayers of confession and assurances of pardon - if they are a weekly part of your worship.  Psalm 32:3-5 gives you a good biblical example of sin that is confessed and forgiven.  Verses 3 and 4 describe what feels like to have done something wrong and try to hide it.  Verse 5 describes confessing the sin to God and being forgiven.  Before praying the day’s prayer of confession and assurance of pardon, walk through both these verses and the meaning of the prayers you will pray.  (Be sure to select prayers for your service that are child accessible. )  Only then, invite the congregation to pray and be forgiven.

In most services these prayers come early, before the reading of scripture and the sermon.  Today consider putting them after the scripture reading and sermon or repeat them in that spot as the affirmation of faith for the day.  Either will help worshipers of all ages participate more thoughtfully in this part of worship today and in the future.

Romans 5:12-19

Paul’s comparison of Adam and Christ is hard for children because children think literally.  I saw it yesterday in a fifth and sixth grade church school class.  My co-teacher had worked through the story of Jesus’ call of the fishing disciples.  He ended by saying that once the disciples had caught fish.  But after meeting Jesus, they caught people.  A bright twelve year old said, “Ah yes, cannibalism?”  He was not being sassy, but saying the first thing that came to his literal mind.  We took another shot at explaining what it meant to fish for people, but were not too sure in the end our explanations really made much sense to our students.  Given this, I’d not expect to meaningfully explore Paul’s complex comparison of Adam and Christ with children.

Matthew 4:1-11

In children’s words the three temptations Jesus faced and refused to give into were:
1.   To use his power just to take care of his own needs, to be sure he got what he wanted, in this case to turn stones into bread when he wanted bread (No one would even see him do it out there in the wilderness; so why should he be hungry when he had the power to turn stones into bread?)
Why not: The story began with God leading Jesus out into the wilderness.  Being out there and being hungry was part of God’s plan.  Jesus was out there to learn something important.  He was to do what God asked, even if it meant being hungry in the wilderness.
2.   To be a celebrity, to use his power in stunts to get attention and prove how important he was
Why Not: God does not want Jesus to show off or prove how powerful God is, but to  love and forgive people
3.   To be king of the world.  If Jesus is God, Jesus knows what is best and as king of the world could insist that everyone do what he wanted.  Jesus would make a very good king.
Why Not: God created people able to make choices.  God wants us to learn to make loving choices.  God didn’t want Jesus to force us to do anything.  

The first temptation is the easiest for children to understand and contains the basic reason for not giving into temptation.  Jesus and we are to trust and obey God.

To help children follow the action, present this story with three readers: a narrator standing in the lectern, Jesus standing or seated in the center of the worship area, and Tempter standing just behind Jesus to one side.  The readers could simply read dramatically in place.  Or, they might add gestures with the Tempter leaning over Jesus’ shoulder and Jesus firmly replying.  If confident actors are available for Jesus and the Tempter, they might even memorize their lines to be script-free to dramatize them with their whole bodies.

                                 Matthew 4:1-11 Reading Script

Narrator:          Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted
                        by the devil.  He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he
                        was famished.   The tempter came and said to him,

Tempter:          If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves
                       of bread.

Narrator:          But he answered,

Jesus:               It is written, “One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Narrator:          Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the
                         pinnacle of the temple, saying to him,

Tempter:          If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you,”
        and “On their hands they will bear you up,
        so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”

Narrator:          Jesus said to him,

Jesus:               Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Narrator:          Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all
                        the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him,

Tempter:          All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.

Narrator:          Jesus said to him,

Jesus:               “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’ ”

Narrator:          Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

                                                                              New Revised Standard Version


In the Disney Classic “Pinocchio,” the wooden puppet who wants to be a real boy is given a cricket named Jiminy as a guide.  Jiminy Cricket explains temptations to Pinocchio as follows:
Jiminy Cricket:   The world is full of temptations!

Pinocchio:           Temptations?

Jiminy Cricket:     Yep.  Temptations.  The wrong things that seem right
                            at the time but…even though..the things may seem
                            wrong, sometimes the wrong things may be right
                            at the wrong times… or..a…vice-versa… Understand? 
                            (talking faster and looking more confused as he goes)

Pinocchio:  But I am going to do right!

Either show this clip from the “Pinocchio” video or give it your best dramatic reading.  Then, work through one or two of Jesus temptations to point out how they might have seemed reasonable… but…  Finally, warn the children that just like Jesus and Pinocchio they will face temptations, hard decisions when it will seem like doing the right thing might not be necessary.  (This could be a children’s sermon, but since most adults and teens will remember the story of Pinocchio, it could also be part of the “real” sermon.)

In “The Littlest Mermaid” Ariel trades her best gift, her voice, to Ursula the Sea Witch whom she knows to be evil, to get what she wants most, the chance to be with the prince on the land.  It was a bad decision from which she was saved only by the bravery and strength of her father and a few friends. 

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