Friday, September 2, 2011

Year A - Proper 21, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 25,2011)

Exodus 17:1-7

Before reading this text, go to the Moses display and pick up the walking stick.  (If you do not have a display, simply produce a walking stick as the prop of the day.)  Review or ask worshipers to recall how that stick has been used in the long Exodus story.  Prop it against the lectern urging worshipers to listen for how it to be used again today.  Then read the story. 

You may want to keep it handy to pick up as you recall in the sermon all the ways God had cared for the people and to express dismay that they still didn’t trust God to keep doing so.  I can almost hear God, like a parent asking whiney, misbehaving children, “do I have to get out the staff again.”

After reading this story add a rock draped with a thin blue ribbon stream to the Moses display.

Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16

Children will not hear the psalmist’s statement about the importance of stories as the psalm is read.  Before reading it aloud, take time to identify at least one story that is important to your nation (the writing of the Declaration of Independence in the USA), one story that is important to your family (in mine it would be how my husband and I met), and one story that is important to us as Christians (maybe the Moses story or the Christmas stories).  Note that we often tell stories in worship and that the psalmist thinks that is wonderful and important.  Then read verses 1-4.

As you read verses 12-16 invite worshipers/children on steps to raise a hand each time they hear something from the story of Moses leading the people out of Egypt.  Each time you see a hand, pause to ask that person what the connection is and celebrate it.  If no one catches a connection, read it a second time and look pointedly at your listeners.  If no one speaks up, ask another question or point to the item in your Moses display to help jog memories.  This provides both a review of the story to date and encouragement for worshipers to listen for stories they know in the psalms.

O The word of the day is REPENT.  The rest of the texts for the day deal with repenting and repentance.  Related words include CHANGE and TURN.  To repent is to change your ways or turn from one thing to another.  Based on what they hear in church, most children assume that repent means to be sorry for something you have done.  Today’s texts insist that while being sorry is a good starting point, the real repenting doesn’t start until we start making changes.  So if you display a word poster, print it in letters that indicate movement.  Introduce the word/word cluster at the very beginning of the service, giving a brief definition and urging worshipers to watch for the word/words in the songs, prayer, readings, etc. of the day.

O Before singing ’Tis A Gift to be Simple point out the verbs in the chorus – bow, bend, and turn.  All are ways we repent.  Rehearse the obvious motions with these verbs and invite all the worshipers to do them as they sing, perhaps with the children leading in the front.

O It is a good day to do a little worship education about the confession and assurance of pardon in your worship.  There are at least two ways to do this.

1. Begin by pointing to the steps of the rite as listed in the printed order of worship.  Tell in your own words what you do in each part of the rite.  Explain how today’s words do that.  And, point out that this is the beginning of repenting that must take place all week long.  Only then, invite worshipers to share in the prayers.  Below is a somewhat child-friendly traditional prayer of confession and assurance of pardon.


Merciful God,
You pardon all who truly repent and turn to you
We humbly confess our sins and ask your mercy.
We have not loved you with a pure heart,
Nor have we loved our neighbor as ourselves.
We have not done justice, loved kindness,
Or walked humbly with you ,our God”

Who is in a position to condemn?
Only Christ,
and Christ died for us,
Christ rose for us,
Christ reigns in power for us,
Christ prays for us.
Anyone who is in Christ
is a new creation
The old life has gone;
A new life has begun.

Passing the Peace:

           From The Book of Common Worship (PCUSA)


2. To emphasize the turning involved in repenting, incorporate turning motions into today’s prayer of confession.  Ask the congregation to stand facing the back door of the sanctuary while praying the confessions and to turn to the front of the sanctuary to pray about repenting.  It might go something like this….


Merciful God,
You pardon all who truly repent and turn to you

People: (face the back on block letters, the front on italics)
We admit that we sometimes say terrible things.
We use our words to hurt others and make ourselves look good.
We twist our words to avoid telling the truth.
We yell and whine and bicker.
Forgive us.

Give us new hearts and new words.
Help us turn toward honesty and kindness.
Teach us to speak in peace.

We not only say evil things, we do them.
We grab what we want without thought for others.
We insist on our own way.
We cheat and steal and find ways to feel OK about it.
Forgive us.

Turn us away from temptations and toward you.
Show us new ways of acting.
Teach us to love others as you love us.
Guide us every day.


O If your congregation includes statements or questions about “turning from evil and turning to Jesus Christ” in your baptism and/or confirmation rites, this is a good day to explore what they mean. 

In my Presbyterian tradition parents when they bring their children to be baptized are asked if they turn from evil and turn toward Jesus Christ.  Those children are then asked the same question when they ask to be confirmed as teenagers.  Today I’d read the exact questions then note that when the parents answer the question they are making a big promise.  They promise that as the leaders of their family they will always try to turn away from all the evil possibilities and to follow Jesus.  It is not an easy promise to keep because being a parent is not easy.  When teenagers are asked the question, they are promising that every day of the rest of their life whether at home, at school, with their friends, wherever, they will try to turn away from things they know are bad and instead turn toward Jesus and live in Jesus’ way.  That isn’t easy either.  Finally I’d challenge parents to keep their baptismal promises, confirmed church members to keep their confirmation promises and children to practice turning to Jesus now. 

Note:  Many children, especially lucky children surrounded by mostly loving adults, assume that adults get it right most or all of the time.  They assume when they grow up they will know what to do in every situation and will always do the right thing.  We adults reinforce that assumption when we pull rank (“Do it my way. I am the adult and know best.”) and when we say in many ways “one day you will understand… but for now…”  Today’s texts challenge us to be honest with the children telling them repenting is a life-long activity.  They might as well practice doing it now because they will be doing it all through their lives.

The Repentance Texts

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

O This is a complicated passage dealing with an idea that does not make much sense to most of today’s children.  Since there are other texts that speak more clearly to children, I’d save this one for the adults.

Psalm 25:1-9

O Use verses 4 and 5 as a congregational response to prayers of confession.  They could be read in response to each of a series of confessions or once in response to  the Assurance of Pardon

Teach me your ways, O Lord;
make them known to me.
Teach me to live according to your truth,
for you are my God, who saves me.
I always trust in you.


Philippians 2:1-13

O The other time this passage appears in the lectionary is on Palm/Passion Sunday.  It is used there as a theological statement about Jesus’ kingship.  Today it is used more as a hymn that reminds us of God’s great love.  Introduce it with words about favorite songs that we sing when we need to feel God near us.  Recall the two year old girl who fell down a very deep well some years ago.  When they lowered a microphone to see if she was making noises that would prove she was alive, they heard her singing “Jesus Loves Me.”  This hymn tells more specifically how Jesus loves us.  People have recited it for centuries in scary situations when they needed to remember that God loved them and took care of them.

O To make the repentance connection to this hymn, start with the hard but honest statement, “Usually we don’t want to repent.  We like what we were doing, even if we know it was wrong.  We don’t want to be embarrassed in front of our family or friends.  Also, we know that making the changes we need to make will be hard.”  After acknowledging all these hard truths, walk through all the things mentioned in this hymn describing the hard things Jesus was willing to do on our behalf.  Suggest that remembering those things can give us the courage to do the hard repenting we need to do.  (This could be a sober discussion during a children’s time or it could be the beginning of the real sermon.  Children are likely to listen for a while before losing you as you move on to more complicated parts of the message.)

O Go to for a script for reading this hymn with children using motions.

Matthew 21:23-32

O “The Big Brag,” by Dr. Seuss (one of the other stories in Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories), describes an argument between a rabbit and a bear.  Each claims it is the very best beast, the rabbit because he can hear better than others, the bear because he can smell so much farther.  A worm pops up claiming that he is the best because he can see farther.  He can see all the way around the world to spot the two silliest creatures who have nothing better to do than argue about which one of them is better.  This story captures for children the silliness of the argument the Temple authorities tried to draw Jesus into.  (It took John Lithgow about 10 minutes to read it on the video I checked out of the library because someone else had the book.) 

O Actually, children are less interested in the discussion about authority in verses 23-27 than they are in the parable about the two sons in verses 28-32.  They miss the point Jesus was making to the Temple authorities.  But, they hear in it two messages tied to repenting.  First, your actions have to match your words.  You can’t come to church to praise God and say prayers about repenting unless you spend the week really working on repenting.  Second, God forgives us when we mess up and try to do better.  

There is no new Lord’s Prayer connection for today’s texts. 


  1. Doesn't "thy will be done" connect the Gospel with the Lord's Prayer? :)

  2. Duh! It most certainly does! Isn't it amazing how we can overlook things in scripture (and most of the rest of life) that become perfectly obvious when pointed out by others. Thanks for being the pointer this week.

    How to make that connection? What about doing what has been done with other phrases in the Lord's Prayer - create a responsive prayer citing situations in which God's will needs to be done. The congregation's response is "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

    Other ideas?


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