Thursday, July 21, 2011

Year A - Proper 14, 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 7, 2011)

This week’s texts provide an embarrassment of riches for children.. Then, to add to the feast, the Episcopalians offer yet another intriguing set of readings.  To Matthew’s story about Jesus and Peter walking on the water in the middle of a storm, they add Jonah being tossed into the sea during an Old Testament storm, and Psalm 29 which celebrates the power of a storm.  This is a set of readings with a clear theme that worshipers of all ages can respond to from where they are – everywhere from trusting God in a season of storms to trusting God in all life’s storms (even the ones we, like Jonah, create).  If you pursue this…

At the very beginning of the service, maybe just before the Call to Worship, speak to the children (either in their pews or on the steps).  Talk briefly about weather storms describing how they scare us because they are so powerful.  Then, suggest that there are storms that have nothing to do with weather, e.g. fights between best friends or between brothers and sisters, even wars.  After very bluntly connecting the power and potential for harm in these different kinds of storms, urge the children to listen for all the storms in the songs, hymns, and stories today and to listen for ways we can face frightening storms of all sorts.

Go to Year A - Baptism of the Lord Sunday for suggestions about reading Psalm 29 with sound effects generated by the congregation and a stormy art project to be done in pews during worship.

If you are working with the Revised Common Lectionary readings…….

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

Children who are constantly pushed by their parents to get along better with their siblings LOVE THIS STORY.  There may have been times they wished a troublesome brother or sister would disappear, but few have seriously contemplated making it happen, much less done something about it.  The fact that such a story appears in the Bible leads them to think that God may understand the realities of their daily lives after all.

The story begs for dramatic presentation both so everyone can enjoy it and so the children get it.  This may be a day for a longer, more elaborate scripture presentation and a shorter sermon that really is commentary on the story.

At the very least tell (in your best story teller style) the stories of the coat and Joseph’s dreams as “two things you need to know about Joseph and his eleven older brothers before you hear today’s story.”  This could be done as a children’s time after which you send the children to their seats to listen the reading from the Bible.

Gather 12 older elementary, teenage, and young adult guys (and maybe a white haired man for Jacob) to pantomime the story.  If possible provide costumes.  If you do not have that many biblical costumes, have all but Joseph wear jeans and a white or dark colored  t shirt.  Have Joseph wear jeans and a very fancy shirt of some sort – maybe a tie-dyed t shirt or a tuxedo tucked or ruffled shirt?   In rehearsal work on showing feelings with your face and body.  Consider adding the coat and dream stories and omitting the stop at Dothan.  (This is one great male bonding opportunity!)     ---  FYI the Exodus text (the birth and adoption of Moses) on August 21 provides a similar opportunity for the girls and women.

Go to for a simple humorous, bring it to life, reading script for this story.  In an informal worship setting enlist readers during the service, handing out highlighted scripts.   (Another great resource from Ann Scull’s Mustard Seeds blog.)

If you use projections during worship consider using

Ø  The appropriate sections of “Joseph – King of Dreams” the animated DVD

Ø  Selected “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” songs
1.       Joseph’s Coat
2.       Joseph’s Dream
3.       Poor, Poor Joseph (Joseph is sold and ends up in prison in Egypt)

The Bible is not clear about what kind of coat Jacob gave Joseph.  Depending on the translation it was a fancy coat, a beautifully decorated coat, a coat with long sleeves (for one who does not have to work), or a coat of many colors.  Point out to the children that the Bible was written in another language centuries ago and no one knows exactly what kind of coat it was.  Name some of the possibilities, then explain that whatever kind of coat it was, it did cause trouble.  From there ask what causes jealousy between siblings today – electronic gadgets, special shoes or clothes, special privileges, special lessons or teams,  anything I would like to have but can’t and my sibling can.  These things make brothers and sisters everywhere say aloud or grumpily to themselves – “It is not fair!”

from The Family Story Bible
by Ralph Milton
Children sympathize with the brothers.  Joseph was an arrogant, pain.  They also had a legitimate complaint against their father who was playing favorites.  It wasn’t fair that Joseph got the fancy coat and they had their old clothes.  It wasn’t fair that the youngest brother was not required to work with the others and was actually sent to check up on them.  Where the brothers got into trouble was when they used an unfair strategy (selling their defenseless brother) to get what seemed only fair for themselves.  That is something for children to remember today.  It also worth highlighting Judah and Ruben’s attempt to save Joseph as proof of how hard it sometimes is to be a peacemaker.

Create a prayer of confession about all the ways we get as mad as the brothers were in our families, communities, even in our world. 

Psalm 105:1-6,16-22, 45b

This psalm assumes the readers already know the rest of the story of Joseph.  Many do not.  So, either omit it or read it suggesting that listeners look for clues about what lies ahead for Joseph and his brothers and promising that you will pick up that story next Sunday. 


Introduce this psalm as a long story poem that might have been told as families sat around their fires or on their roofs on summer evenings (before DVDs, computers, TVs, or even books).  People sat around telling stories about what was important in life.  They enjoyed retelling those stories in new beautiful ways.  This psalm told the story from Abraham through Moses.  We’ll just read the beginning and the verses about Joseph.  Everyone responds with 45b, as family might have done after the story at night.

1 Kings 19:9-18

This story raises the question “How does God speak to us?”  Literal thinking children assume that when the Bible says God spoke, people heard God with their ears.  When adults around them use this same language they assume those adults hear God speak with their ears and wonder why God never speaks to them that way.  Often they conclude that they are not good enough for God to speak to.  This story provides an opportunity to explore all this.  Point out that the Hebrew slaves knew God was with them as they left Egypt and started across the desert because there was a tall column of fire in from of them at night.  But when the fire came past Elijah on the mountain, God was not there.  When the disciples were hiding out after Jesus was resurrected there was a strong wind that blew through them and they felt God explaining to them who Jesus was, but when the wind passed Elijah on the mountain, God was not in it.  Some people have felt God with them in earthquakes, but not Elijah.  Then read the NRSV translation that says Elijah heard God in “the sound of sheer silence.”  Clearly explain that sometimes we know God is telling us something, even when we do not hear a word with our ears.  We feel God telling us deep inside us. 

Psalm 85:8-13

This psalm is so full of metaphorical language that it makes little sense to children.  It appears again in Year B on the Second Sunday of Advent when it fits the texts in ways that can more easily interpreted to children.  I’d wait until then to explore it with children.

Romans 10:5-15

Children don’t understand Paul’s problems with legalism.  Preschool children believe the “biggest” person  present makes the rules and everyone else follows them.  It’s just the way it works.  Elementary school children begin to understand that rules are set by the community and can be negotiated (hence the game playing sessions in which more time is spent arguing about the rules than playing the game).  They also believe that good people obey the rules and will tell you with conviction that they keep the important rules like the 10 commandments perfectly.  They simply cannot grasp Paul’s more ”experienced” concerns about the problems with “living by the rules.”  That will have to wait a few years for them.

Matthew 14:22-33

Like the Genesis text, this story begs for dramatic presentation.

Read it dramatically reading faster and louder as the storm grows.  Say “It’s a ghost” like you think the disciples might have said it.  Pause when the storm ceases and read the rest in a very calm voice. 

To get the congregation “in the boat with the disciples” tell them to pretend they are not sitting in a pew/chair but in a boat.  When all are aboard, push off, enjoy bobbing around in the water,  even do some rowing together.  Then, notice the storm coming at you across the water.  Rock and roll as the waves and wind build.  Hold onto the sides of the boat.  Remark on water coming into the boat.  Then, point in fear at an imaginary Jesus coming across the water.  Tell what Peter did.  Once Peter and Jesus are back in the boat, whip your arm in a stop signal and quietly say “the winds stopped”  and read the last verse.  (This could be a children’s time, but is more effectively done as the real gospel "reading" with the whole congregation.)

The key word is FAITH.  Children understand it best as trusting God.  Trust is almost a better word for them because it is more familiar. 

Introduce FAITH and TRUST at the beginning of the service.  Briefly define them and urge children to listen for them in the prayers, readings, songs, and stories of the day.  For big impact, put a real boat in the center of the sanctuary.  Equip it with a large paper sail on which is printed FAITH and/or TRUST and any other synonyms that you will be using today.  Or, display a large drawing of boat with the same sail.

If your children are among those going back to school in early August, use this story to talk about all the things you can do (master new subjects, learn new skills, make new friends…) if you are willing to try.  Instead of being hard on Peter for flunking water walking, praise him for trying while the others stayed in the boat.  Note that God made us able to learn and do many amazing things.  We need to trust God enough to try new things.  (Be sure to point out that this does not mean we can do anything – like jump off a building expecting to fly like Superman.  God gave us brains and expects us to use them to figure out what to try and what to avoid.)

Common childhood experiences that parallel this story of faith include
-          Riding a bicycle for the first time without training wheels
-          Realizing that you are halfway across the pool the first time you try to swim all the way across the pool in the deep end
-          Realizing what you are doing in the middle of standing up to a bully,
       even if he/she is responding well
-          Realizing what you are doing halfway through your recital piece
      (people often lose their concentration and mess up when this happens)
-          Realizing what you are doing the first time you stay home on your own

If all the talk of the sea leads you to sing “Eternal Father Strong to Save” begin by pointing out that it is a prayer for people who spend a lot of time on the sea.  List or ask the congregation to help you list some of these people (sailors, fishing crews, scientists studying the ocean, travelers on cruise ships, people who work on off-shore oil well platforms, etc.) before singing the song together.

Two hymns about trusting God:

“I Sing the Mighty Power of God”  answers the question “why can we trust God” with examples of God’s great power and loving care.  So suggest that it is a good song to sing when we are doing something new and scary.

The short hymn “Give to the Winds Thy Fears” is another good song for scary moments.  Especially if it is unfamiliar to the congregation, read through the words stopping to put a few phrases into your own words for clarity.  Then, invite the congregation to sing it thinking about the disciples in the boat or themselves in a scary situation.

If your children are going back to school soon, go to my Back To School! post.

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