Friday, September 16, 2011

Year A - Proper 23, 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 9, 2011)

Exodus 32:1-14
L Spray paint gold a plastic cow from the farm toys.  Before reading this story add it to the Moses display and encourage worshippers to listen for one in the story.  (The golden calf in the picture is a wonderful gift my preacher husband received from a Kerygma Class.  Sorry you don’t each have one of them, but thought you might enjoy seeing this cool one.)

To explain the problem with the golden calf to children start by pointing to commandment #2 of the Ten Commandments.  Reword it, “I am bigger than anything you can imagine.  So, don’t make anything that you think looks like me.  You will get it wrong.”  Laugh about God not being a cow.  But then, admit that you don’t think the people were that dumb.  They just wanted something they could see and touch and decorate with flowers and dance around and eat near to make them feel that God was with them and that they understood God.  A god they could not see was just too scary. 

Sing “Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise” to celebrate God who is “more” than the Hebrews in the desert or we can imagine.  Before singing it, point out the big words in the first lines and rephrase them, “God who lived before the universe was created and will still live after the universe dies, God who is invisible, God who is wiser than any person who ever was or ever will be.  God, you are so amazing we can’t begin to understand you.”

J Children are fascinated by the story of Moses talking back to God and of God changing plans based on what Moses said.  It gives them permission to be honest with God.  They can tell God what they don’t like.  God can take it. God listens.  God may even change plans.  Older children appreciate pairing this story with Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane.  God heard Jesus’ prayer, but did not save him from dying on the cross.

L Today’s Lord’s Prayer connection is “lead us not into temptation.”  The people were scared.  They were out in the desert and Moses, the leader who had led them there had gone up the mountain to talk with God.  He had been gone a really long time.  They wondered what if he never came down, what if he had died up there?  Moses was the one who talked with God for them.  What would they do without Moses?  What if they were out there all alone out here in the desert.  They were scared, really scared.  So, they forgot (or decided to ignore) Commandment #2.  They thought if they had something they could see maybe that could be as good as seeing Moses who talked to God.  Create a responsive prayer citing a variety of scary situations (when we are afraid we won’t get what we want, when we are afraid others don’t like us, when we are afraid others will hurt us….).  End each petition “when we are scared…” to which the congregation responds with “lead us not into temptation.”  If it works, move from this prayer into praying the entire Lord’s Prayer in unison.

Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23

L Verses 6, 19-22 can be a responsive prayer of confession with the congregation praying, “Lord, we too are guilty” after each verse.  Before praying this prayer together talk with the children.  Briefly tell the gold calf story if it has not already been told.  Then, note that none of us have ever made a Golden Calf to worship, but that we have frequently decided that what we want is more important than what God wants. 
We think we have to go to a certain spend the night party
– even if it means we won’t be at church the next morning. 
We think we just gotta sit at the lunch table with the popular crowd
-even it means deserting less popular friends. 
We cheat (steal the answers) on a test we just have to pass. 
Each time we do that we are just like the people who made a calf to worship instead of God.  Point out the structure of the prayer and invite them to join you in admitting to God what we do and remembering that God loves and forgives us.  (Younger children will have trouble making the connection between the calf and our current idol worshiping activities.  But, this conversation introduces them to the possibility of identifying ourselves and our activities with those of people in the Bible.  We do that frequently in worship.)


Prayer of Confession

Leader:         Both we and our ancestors have sinned;
we have committed iniquity, have done wickedly.

All:                  Lord, we too are guilty.

Leader:         They made a calf at Horeb
and worshiped a cast image.

All:                  Lord, we too are guilty.

Leader:         They exchanged the glory of God
for the image of an ox that eats grass.

All:                  Lord, we too are guilty.

Leader:         They forgot God, their Savior,
who had done great things in Egypt,
wondrous works in the land of Egypt,
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.

All:                  Lord, we too are guilty

Assurance of Pardon

Leader:         Just as Moses pleaded with God to forgive his
so Christ stands with us. 
                        We are forgiven.

All:                   Thanks be to God!


J There are lots of feasts in the following texts.  If you will be building worship around them, find a place setting in clip art to shrink very small and print by each item that includes a feast in the printed order of worship.  Before the Call to Worship, tell the children that there will be lots of feasts in today’s worship.  Name a few of them, e.g. a wedding feast, a feast to which all the people in all nations are invited, a feast that is eaten in the presence of enemies, and (if you celebrate the sacrament today) a feast they will actually eat.  Point to the icons in the printed order of worship telling the children that it is a treasure hunt.  Their challenge is to find the feast in each marked reading, song or prayer.

Simply identifying the feasts may be all you want to do with the children this Sunday.  The Bible is filled with wonderful, child-friendly feast stories – but these are not among them.  These feasts are filled with difficult details and are described to make points that are not significant to children. 

Isaiah 25:1-9

Understanding this psalm requires either the knowledge of the destruction of Jerusalem or the experience of having lived in a city that was destroyed (perhaps in natural disaster).  In communities with the latter experience this can be unpacked as the same kind of promise for the future that it was to Isaiah’s original readers.  But for luckier children this psalm requires more explaining than its meaning for them justifies. 

Psalm 23

J This psalm is included today because of the feast images, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies…my cup overflows.”  The first thing to clarify with the children is that in this case a cup that overflows is not a disaster (which overflowing cups usually are for children) but a promise of unlimited seconds of your favorite drink.  Once that is cleared up, children can be pointed to the feast that can be enjoyed even if there are enemies or big problems around.  They need help getting to the psalmist’s message that God loves us and takes care of us even when things are hard.  North American children looking forward to Thanksgiving feasts can be reminded of early Thanksgiving feasts that included Native Americans and settlers among whom there was uneasy peace. 

J Psalm 23 shows up frequently in worship.  Go to Year A - Fourth Sunday in Lent for Psalm 23 hymns for children and a coloring sheet activity.

Philippians 4:1-9

Children are quickly lost in the generalities of this list of exhortations.  For them it is probably best to select one or two for fuller attention and save the others for another day.  My choice would be the call to “Rejoice!”  If you have banners or posters bearing the word, bring them out this week.  Ponder the fact that it is possible to remember God and trust God when we are frightened, when we are sad, and even when we are happy (strangely, it is sometimes harder to do when we are busy being happy).  This gives us a wonderful deep-inside-us joy.  If the Hebrews had remembered this joy, they would not have built the gold calf.  If the first workers in the parable had this joy, it would have been easier to be happy for the workers who got a day’s wage for an hour’s work.

J REJOICE benediction Give children business cards bearing the word REJOICE to pass out to worshipers around them.  Suggest that people put a card in their pocket, purse, or bookbag where it can surprise them occasionally.  Then, send them out with charge to rejoice, because God is with them.

J Rejoice hymns

“I’ve Got a Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart” could be a congregational hymn or be talked about and sung during a children’s time.
I’ve got a joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart…
I’ve got the wonderful love of my blessed redeemer way down in the depths of my heart…
Or the simpler “I’ve got the love of Jesus, love of Jesus down in my heart”
I’ve got the peace that passes understanding…
Even “if the devil doesn’t like it he can sit on a tack…”

“Rejoice Ye Pure in Heart” (Point out all the “rejoice!”s in the chorus and encourage non-readers to sing them.)

“For the Beauty of the Earth” names specific recognizable parts of life in which children and adults can rejoice.

Matthew 22:1-14

One commentator quipped that this parable should be “at least PG-13” rated.  It is filled with details that on the surface don’t make sense.  It is not a story but an allegory and allegories are almost impossible for children to interpret.  But even if they understand allegories -- if God is the king why does God kill the unresponsive guests and burn their city and why does God send away the poor man  because he wasn’t properly dressed?  This is definitely not a parable to dramatize or present creatively in the hope that every worshiper will catch every detail!  Instead, it is probably best to pick out one or two elements of the parable to explore with children. 

J On the simplest level, insist to the children that the church is God’s feast or God’s party.  They have been invited.  They can join in worship, classes and clubs and teams, service ministries, and fun.  It is their choice if they come.  If they, like the first guests, don’t join in, they will miss out.  (OK, it is not always their choice to come, but activities beyond Sunday morning often are J

J Talk about birthday parties.  Ask what the children do at such parties and who they invite.  Then, talk about the guest list for this feast.  It includes everyone, both the good and the bad.  God invites them all to the party.

J Oh the Places You’ll Go!, by Dr. Seuss, is usually a graduation gift.  Today read or quote only the first four pages that point out that we are each in charge of where we go and what we do and don’t do.  Enjoy the rhymes and connect the choices in them with the choices of the guests invited to the wedding feast.  They could go or stay away.  Insist that Jesus’ invitation to be part of all the things we do together as a church is one of the best invitations we will ever get.  Urge worshipers to use their brains and their feet to respond to that invitation.

J Reread verses 11-13 about the improperly dressed guest with a surprised face.  Admit “that doesn’t sound like God or Jesus.”  Then point out that sometimes it is very important to know little facts about life when the Bible was written.  Explain that in that day the host provided clothes for the guests who came to the wedding.  So, the poor man would have been offered a nice wedding robe, he just didn’t want to wear it.  He came to the party and was eating the food, but he refused to do his part by wearing a wedding costume.  That wasn’t right!  Read verses once again. 

BE CAREFUL. The summary of this discussion is tricky.  It is easy to conclude something like, so do what you are told and participate well when you come to church.  Not good!  Jesus is urging people who come to his feast, to follow his “party rules” like love God and love each other.  Jesus doesn’t want us to just come to get the goodies or do the fun stuff, but to really join in with people around us.  It is a subtle, but important difference.

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