Thursday, June 9, 2011

Year A - Proper 10, 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 10, 2011)

Genesis 25:19-34

Children enjoy this story of brothers who were fighting before they were born.  Parents appreciate the story of the parents who did everything wrong by today’s standards for parents.  The whole family is a mess AND still God loves them and calls them to be God’s people.  There is a lot of hope in that for less than perfect families today. 
Do note that Joseph and the brothers who sell him into slavery show up the first two weeks in August.  Think ahead about which shared themes you will emphasize in these similar but different stories.

Ask a family with two sons who are good readers (maybe older elementary or middle school age) to read the scripted version.  Explain to them that their job is to help the listeners hear all the problems in this family.  Rehearse it with them once to show them where to stand and to encourage them to play their parts a little over the top. 

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Genesis 25:19-34

Reader 1 reads from the lectern and is probably the worship leader.  Isaac stands beside Rebekah in the middle, (maybe on the top step).  Esau and Jacob stand just in front of their parents (maybe one step down) and Esau closer to Isaac and Jacob closer to Rebekah.

Isaac  and   Rebekah
                  Reader 1
Esau            and                  Jacob

Reader 1:  These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac,

Isaac (pointing to self):  Isaac was forty years old when he married

Rebekah (pointing to herself proudly):  Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean.

Isaac: Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer,

Rebekah:  and his wife Rebekah conceived.    The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?”   So she went to inquire of the Lord.

Reader 1:  And the Lord said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the elder shall serve the younger.”

Rebekah:  When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb.

Esau (pointing to self): The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau.

Jacob (raising hand as if to say that’s me): Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel (Lean down to grab Esau’s heel then stand up again); so he was named Jacob.

Isaac (proudly):  Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah bore them.

Esau (stand tall with feet planted wide):  When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field,

Jacob:  while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents.

Isaac:  Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; (Put hands on Esau’s shoulders)

Rebekah:  but Rebekah loved Jacob. (Put hands on Jacob’s shoulders)

Pause  (Parents withdraw hands and boys step forward a little)

Jacob:  Once when Jacob was cooking a stew,

Esau:  Esau came in from the field, and he was famished.   Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!”

Jacob:  Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.”

Esau:  Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?”

Jacob:  Jacob said, “Swear to me first.”

Esau:  So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob.

Jacob:  Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew,

Esau:  and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

                                               Based on the New Revised Standard Version

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F Before reading this text, invite the children forward to explain what a birthright was.  From a preschool room bring a collection of plastic farm animals and housekeeping equipment.  Explain that when a man died in Bible days, all his stuff was divided among his sons (sorry, daughters).  The oldest son got twice as much as any younger son.  Identify several boys as brothers.  Give half of everything to one of them and split the rest between the others.  Note that since the oldest had more than he could possibly take care of, he COULD invite the younger ones to stay at home and help him.  But, he would be the boss.  Agree with the children that this was very unfair and you are glad it doesn’t work that way today.  Then, repeat the word “birthright” and tell the children they will hear about two brothers and the older’s birthright in today’s story.  Then send them back to their seats to listen.

D Children, who hear a lot about making good choices, enjoy hearing about Esau’s really poor choice.  Esau chose what he wanted right now without thinking about what he was giving up to get it.  Parents work hard to get children to avoid making that mistake.  And, throughout our lives we all struggle with what we want right now and what is of long term value.  Two books connect neatly here.

F Way back in the first Harry Potter book, Hagrid who loved magical animals got a chance to get a dragon egg.  He really wanted to raise a dragon.  He wanted it so much that he did not think ahead.  He ignored the fact that owning dragons was illegal, that dragons grow very fast, have poisonous fangs, nasty dispositions, and breathe fire.  (Hermoine had to remind him what was likely to happen to his wood house.)  And, there was trouble.  It soon became impossible to hide the growing, rambunctious dragon.  Finally, Harry, Ron and Hermoine managed to smuggle the dragon (Norbert) out of Hogwarts to people who could get it to a safe place.  But everyone got in trouble in the process.  Hagrid finally regretted getting the egg, just as Esau eventually realized that his choice to sell his birthright for a bowl of stew was very foolish.  Unfortunately for Esau, his bad choice had much more serious long term consequences than Hagrid’s did.  (See Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, chapter 14, for all the glorious details.)

F In Alexander Who Use to Be Rich Last Sunday Judith Viorst describes a long series of bad choices a boy makes spending the dollar his grandparents brought him.  Alexander (yes, the same Alexander of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) really wants to save it for a walkie-talkie, but frithers it away foolishly.  Since the book was written in 1978, you may want to update the prices, e.g. no 11 cent candy bars.  Alexander and Esau both need help thinking ahead when they make choices.

Psalm 119:105-112

F This is the section of the huge alphabet poem Psalm 119 in which every line begins with the Hebrew letter nun.  Display a poster of the letter, explain that each line praises God’s word in a phrase that begins with that letter.  Project or show this text in a Hebrew Bible pointing to the letter at the right hand (Hebrew reads right to left) of each line.  Then have each verse read by a different reader.  This could be a good worship leadership job for an older children’s class.

F Verse 105 is probably the best known of these verses.  To help children understand the metaphor “Your word is a lamp to my feet,” try using a Bible as a flashlight pretending to look for something.  Maybe with the help of the children, conclude that a Bible will never be a flashlight.  Then read verse 105 and work out what it is really saying about the Bible.  The Bible helps us know where to go and what to do every day.  It helps us see God’s good way of living. 

Romans 8:1-11

J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) and Paul are on the same page in this passage.  Paul compares living by the flesh with living by the Spirit.  Rowling gives us two characters to embody those possibilities. 

Lord Voldemort lives according to the flesh.  He is all about getting what he wants no matter what it means for others.  One thing he wants is to be immortal.  He learns that the way to do that is to divide his soul (his self) into seven parts, inserting each in a separate object that he obtains by killing its owner.  These soul holding objects are called horcruxes.  Slowly Lord Voldemort creates the horcruxes hiding them in ingeniously guarded places.  Murder and mayhem ripple out from his activities. 

Harry Potter on the other hand lives by the Spirit, that is he understands the world as a good place and sees love as what holds the world together.  He knows that he was loved so much by his mother that she died to save him.  He slowly learns to treat all the people around him lovingly.  He and his friends hunt and destroy each of Lord Voldemort’s horcruxes to save each other and everyone in the world.  When Harry learns that he is the final horcrux and that the only way to stop Lord Voldemort is to let him kill Harry, Harry allows that to happen.  That is living by the Spirit.  The surprise is that after his “death,”  Harry learns that he still has the opportunity to live and thus is returned to his friends.  His love triumphs over death.  This is living by the Spirit too.

Though we do not face death-eaters, magical monsters, and wizards with wands, we do daily meet opportunities to do what we know is wrong and will hurt other people.  We are warned by Harry to stay alert and be careful.

F If your congregation uses the phrase “renounce evil” in questions in baptismal, confirmation or ordination, quote those questions today.  Put the question into your own words with reference to Harry Potter’s fight against the evil he encountered.  Talk about what it means to “renounce evil” in each worship situation.  Compare “renouncing evil” every day to the way Harry had to “renounce evil.”

Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

F Parables are very open stories designed to have more than one meaning.  Often they mean different things to the same reader at different times.  When we refuse to offer right answers to the parables in preaching, we welcome worshipers to read and ponder all parables with a sense of open wonder.
The commentaries I read, warned against treating this parable as an allegory.  The easy way to do that is to read only the parable (verse 1-9) omitting the very allegorical interpretation in verses 18-23.  Or, stop after the parable to ponder “what Jesus was trying to tell us” before introducing verses 18-23 as one possible meaning.  Children are often more able than adults to produce possible messages.  If they do, be sure that their attempts are affirmed and not laughed at – even when their offerings are a bit novel.

F This parable (verses 1-9) begs to be dramatized for sheer enjoyment. 
Before worship gather a group of worshipers to prepare to pantomime the parable as it is read.  Read through the story first asking actors to show you how each seed grew.  As they offer good interpretations, assign them to that part.  After reading it through once and assigning parts, direct actors where to stand.  Then reread the parable with the groups miming their assigned parts.  Now you should be ready to pantomime it during worship.
- This could be done by youth and adults for a more polished performance or
- by children to give them a chance to be worship leaders and have a more spontaneous performance or
- by an intergenerational group for summer fun and to emphasize that the parable belongs to all of us.

Green plant sock puppet
choked by a weed sock puppet
For a no rehearsal presentation using socks as puppets, invite the children to come forward to help you present the parable for the day.  Give each child one sock to pull over one hand.  Most socks should be green (or white with the instructions to imagine them green).  You will need a few dark brown ones for weeds and black ones for the thieving birds. There could even be a few gray ones for the rocks.  Once everyone has a sock on, invite them to show with their sock puppet what happens in the story.  You may need to pause as you read to help them act it out as you get started.

F The Harry Potter connection to this parable is found in Chapter 3 of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, “The Letters From No One.”  When his Uncle Vernon refuses to give Harry a letter addressed to him, more and more, actually hundreds of letters arrive.  As Uncle Vernon moves Harry and the family around hoping to make the letters stop, the letters keep arriving with the new address, e.g. “the cupboard under the stairs,” “the smallest bedroom,” “Railview Hotel,” and finally “the floor, Hut on the Rock, the Sea.”  The letter is an invitation to become a student at Hogwarts.  When Hagrid finally delivers it personally to Harry he tells Harry that he is a wizard, a much loved one.  Like the sower, Hagrid scatters his letters in abundance everywhere that Harry might get them.  Like the seed, the letters tell Harry who he is and invite him to an incredible new future. 

F Two other familiar children’s stories about sowing with abandon:
Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney, tells the fictional story of a woman who keeps her promise to her grandfather to do something to make the world prettier by planting lupine seeds all around her community in Maine.

Go to to learn the details of the story of Johnny Appleseed, a real person who became a legend, for planting apple trees all over the Ohio River Valley and into New York.  After telling his story, sing the Johnny Appleseed blessing in place of the doxology today when offerings are presented today.
O, the Lord’s been good to me. 
And so I thank the Lord
for giving me the things I need:
the sun and the rain and the apple seed. 
The Lord is good to me.  Amen.

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