Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Year A - Proper 16, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 21, 2011)

Exodus 1:8-2:10

Especially if a group of boys and men read the story about Joseph and his brothers, choose women and girls of all ages to read this passage.  Miriam is an older elementary school girl.  Pharaoh’s daughter might be an older teenager.  The Narrator might be the oldest female reader or the pastor - even if the pastor is male.  Practice together is both essential for a smooth, confident reading and for some good female bonding.


Exodus 1:8 – 2:10

Narrator:  Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.  He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we.  Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.”   Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh.  But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.  The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.
 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.”

Shiphrah:   But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live.  So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?”

Puah:  The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.”  So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong.  And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.

Narrator:  Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”

Moses’ Mother:  Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman.  The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months.  When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river.

Miriam:  His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.

Pharaoh’s Daughter:  The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it.  When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him.“This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said.

Miriam:  Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?”

Pharaoh’s Daughter:  Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother.  Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it.  When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

New Revised Standard Version


I For fun and to get everyone’s attention for a reading by a single person, read the opening line “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”  The organist interrupts with a duh, duh, duh, duh or uh-oh sound.  After the laughter, briefly say that the organist has it right and urge worshipers to listen for what happened.  Then read the passage dramatically.

I This is the first of ten readings from the life of Moses.  We will be with Moses until the Sunday before Halloween!  To help children connect all those stories to one man and to recall the stories from week to week, create a display to which you add one object each week.  (Go to Year A - Moses Display for Propers 16-25 for an overview of this display.)  Today begin with the burlap in place.  Introduce it as deserty wilderness land where many of the stories in the Bible took place.  Briefly note that we are beginning to tell one very long story, very important story.  If you wish, get worshipers to open their Bibles to the second book in the Bible, Exodus, where this story is found.  Then read or present the story.  You may want to leave a Bible open to Exodus on or near the display.  After reading the story and discussing it, produce a baby doll wrapped in white fabric and nestled in a wicker basket.  Set it on the display.

Psalm 124

I This psalm is one of the Songs of Ascent, songs pilgrims sang as they walked up the steep, sometimes dangerous road to the Jerusalem Temple.  Imagine one traveler calling out the question in verse one and other travelers replying by reciting the rest of the verses.  To feel yourselves with the pilgrims, stand and walk in place as you read.

I To help children grasp all the images in the psalm, have worshipers open their pew Bibles.  Briefly point out the format in the first verse, then walk through the images that say how much trouble we were in.
It was like we were being carried away by a raging flood.
It was like an animal was eating us.
We were like a bird caught in a trap – before God broke the trap to free us
Point out that in all these situations God did indeed save the people.  Then read the psalm together from the Bibles or using the script below.


Psalm 124

Leader:            What if the Lord had not been on our side?
Answer, O Israel!

People:            “If the Lord had not been on our side
when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us alive
in their furious anger against us;
then the flood would have carried us away,
the water would have covered us,
the raging torrent would have drowned us.”

Let us thank the Lord,
who has not let our enemies destroy us.
We have escaped like a bird from a hunter’s trap;
the trap is broken, and we are free!
Our help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

                                                                   Today’s English Version


Isaiah 51:1-6 and Psalm 138

Given the richness of the other texts for children and the connections between those texts and going back to school, I find little to recommend using the alternate texts for children.  Both speak in generalities and abstract terms.  I think it would even be possible to read Psalm 124 with Isaiah.  Those of you who are committed to these texts, tell us what you are doing in the comments section.

Romans 12:1-8

I A living sacrifice sounds grossly gory to children today.  Rather than search for ways to make it more acceptable, but still a sacrifice, restate it in phrases such as “present your whole self.”

I The Good News Bible offers an especially clear translation of verses 6-8.

So we are to use our different gifts in accordance with the grace that God has given us. If our gift is to speak God’s message, we should do it according to the faith that we have; if it is to serve, we should serve; if it is to teach, we should teach; if it is to encourage others, we should do so. Whoever shares with others should do it generously; whoever has authority should work hard; whoever shows kindness to others should do it cheerfully.

I Today’s other texts are filled with illustrations of people serving where they are placed.  A sermon that devotes generous time to telling their stories and pointing out their service, sends children off to school (and the adults back into their fall schedules) with lots of heroes and heroines.

Shiphrah and Puah were nobodies who refused to go along with the powerful king who threatened them if they did not do what he wanted.

Moses’ Mother worked hard to save her son from Pharaoh’s death decree.
Miriam simply babysat for her little brother (probably swatting gnats and mosquitoes the whole time) then acted bravely and cleverly.
Pharaoh’s daughter knew she couldn’t save all the Hebrew babies, but she could and did save one.
Peter, the uneducated fisherman, was willing to say the amazing thing he was coming to believe  - that Jesus was indeed God’s messiah.

I "I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” or “Take My Life and Let it Be”  are the most child accessible hymns on this theme.

I The verses about conformity speak more clearly to teenagers and adults than to children.  If you do explore this theme, remember all the transformer toys and heroes.  They will be the first things children think of when the verses are read.  Transformers change from ordinary things into extraordinary things with special powers.  Stories about them generally involve lots of violence.  So, plan carefully how you will get the children to your message about being transformed.

Matthew 16:13-20

I Emphasize the conversation that takes place here.  Prearrange with 12 people of a variety of ages (maybe a couple of families) to help present today’s scripture.  In advance designate one to read the first response to Jesus’ question and another to read Peter’s response (maybe a male named Peter?)  Plan for one brief rehearsal so that everyone knows exactly what to do when.  When the time comes for the scripture, call the 12 forward identifying them as Jesus’ 12 disciples.  They join you sitting casually on the steps or floor at the front.  Say that one day as Jesus was with his disciples, he asked them a question.  Read the question from the Bible.  Hear the answer of the first disciple followed by Jesus’ second question and Peter’s answer.  Reach out putting a hand on Peter’s shoulder, looking into his eyes, whatever feels right, to say or read Jesus response to Peter.  You will have to decide whether to address Jesus’ you are a rock and gift of the keys specifically to Peter or to all the disciples.

I If this is the Sunday before school starts focus today on Peter’s insight and heroic standing up for what he was beginning to know.  Encourage children to be like Peter at school.  Then next Sunday before reading about Peter’s failure and Jesus’ rebuke, ask for a show of hands from children how many got at least one answer or made one mistake in school during the last week.  Also ask how many adults messed up at least once at work last week.  You are then set up to explore how we fail even with the best of intentions.  More on that next week.

I As you explore the rock image, remember that children today most often hear "rock" in the phrase, “you rock!”  By that they mean you are awesome or great or powerful or cool – all good things to be.  So, to them Jesus may not only be saying Peter you are steady, but you are up to the task before you.  You will do well! 

I If you tell the stories of the Exodus women, connect their ordinariness with Peter the ordinary fisherman.  Then explore the fact that God used all these ordinary people to do God’s work in big important ways.  Give each child (or each worshiper) a rock as a reminder that they to are also the rocks upon which God builds this world.  The rocks may be a polished stone on which they draw a cross with a wide tipped marking pen (check houseplant sections of nurseries or home supply stores) or simply fist sized rocks (check a local landscaping store) on which children can draw a cross with a wide tipped marking pen.

If you go with the latter, you can mention how often each one of us feels about as special as a rock.  The rock with a cross on it reminds us both that God made us this way and that God uses very ordinary rock-y people to do God’s work in the world.

I Though it will be years before they can drive the car, children dream of that day.  On that day they will be able to decide where to go and go there.  One way to interpret Jesus’ comments about keys is to compare them to a parent saying to a new driver, “here are the keys.”  Jesus was telling Peter and the others that they were in the driver’s seat.  They were going to be making more and more of the decisions.  And, they would be responsible.  Make the case that even now, they are often in the driver’s seat – especially among friends at school, on the bus, wherever they go.  Jesus is trusting them to make loving decisions.  Holding a set of car keys in your hands, bouncing them around, even offering them to nearby worshipers reinforces the image vividly.

If the children are going back to school this week, check Back to School! for more ideas on how to include this important event in their lives in the congregation’s worship.


  1. You speak of a link to a Moses-story display...but I didn't find a green link. Did I miss it?

  2. Oops! You are so right. I overlooked my LINK which has to be replaced at the last minute by the "green ink." But, thanks to your note, it is now fixed. Hope it helps.

  3. I really like your Matthew text ideas. Thanks for stimulating the memories of both rocks and keys!!

  4. This was a great commentary, also. I like the keys idea. I was preparing early in the week for my Baby Moses children's moment, had looked at our church bulletin and noticed the picture of Baby Moses on the front, but then read closer and discovered just now that the Scripture reading lists the gospel passage! So the rock and keys ideas are excellent and fortunately don't need any fancy props! Thanks for a great resource.


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