Thursday, July 5, 2012

Year B - Proper 12, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 9th Sunday after Pentecost (July 29, 2012)

There are two sets of oddly divided texts this week and next week.  So, the folks at the “Rumors” blog (and others) suggest combining the two texts about David and Bathsheba so that you read about both the sin and its consequence on one Sunday and combining John 6:1-21 and 24-35 to explore the event and its meaning on one Sunday.  The David stories would fall on July 29th  leaving the feeding story and the beginning of the four week exploration of its meaning for August 5, which is a communion  Sunday in many congregations.  Not a bad at all! 

With today’s gospel we start a five week series of readings from John about the bread of life.  One commentator said that the synoptics tell us the story of the Last Supper.  John does not tell the story, but includes a whole chapter on its meaning.  That invites us to do a lot of worship education about Communion during August.  And, there is lots to point out and explain to the children with the adults listening in and learning, too.  I’ll make a Communion connection for gospel lesson.  These could become children’s times, be worked into the real sermon, or be practice sessions just before the Eucharist liturgy.

2 Samuel 11:1-15 (and maybe 11:26-12:13a)

D If you combine today’s story of David’s sin with next week’s story of God’s judgment, the story gets a little long.  To keep interest have it read dramatically by a David reader and a Nathan reader as follows:

David               2 Samuel 11:1-15
Nathan                               11:26 – 12:4
David                                 12:5-6
Nathan                               12:7-10  (I’d omit vss 11-12)
David                                 12:13a

D This story is heard very differently by people of different ages and sexes.  For children, David’s sin is not adultery, but stealing another man’s wife, then having him killed to cover up his theft.  It’s a matter of breaking the rules.  Young children assume that rules are made by the biggest, most powerful person in the room and are non-negotiable.  To them this story says that even great King David should have followed the rules.  No one is above Gods’ rules.  As children grow through elementary school, they realize that many rules are indeed negotiable.  Almost every group they are part of makes or clarifies its rules.  They empathize with David’s wish to choose the rules he did or did not follow.  In their own ways they follow his logic to get what they want.

“But the big kids do it, and I’m really a big kid now…I’m a fourth grader!...”
“But it’s my birthday…” and I thought the usual rules wouldn’t apply today
“But I wanted it sooooo much!”
“Sure, I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t think anyone would mind just this one time – I’ll never do it again, promise.”

Psalm 14 or Psalm 51:1-12

D Children will catch little of Psalm 14’s insistence that we are all sinners.  For them Psalm 51 is a much better choice.

D Most children have little grasp of their own sinfulness.  They know they do the occasional bad thing, but are not overwhelmed by it.  Few have had the opportunity to steal a wife or murder.  So, introduce Psalm 51 as the psalm David prayed after he had stolen Bathsheba and had her husband killed.  The children can begin to understand now why the images in the prayer fit David and thus be ready to claim those images and the prayer for themselves when they need them later.

D Children hear the poetic images in Psalm 51 literally.  So, “create in me a clean heart” sounds like “cut me open, take out my heart, scrub it down, and then stick it back in me.”  Ouch!  Point this out and then explore what it really means.  Describe how we feel dirty and yucky when know we have done things that are wrong and that have hurt other people.  We feel so rotten that we want to hide.  Then describe how clean and fresh and new we feel when we admit what we have done and do whatever we can to fix the hurt we have caused.  An unhappy family road trip with fussing over toys, food and space in the back seat might be a good illustration of these dirty and clean feelings.

D If you plan to use parts of Psalm 51 in the prayer of confession, gather the children before praying it.  Briefly tell the children the story behind it and put its meaning into your own words.  Then, pray it together.

The prayers of confession generally come early in worship.  It would be possible to pray them this week without comment at that time.  Then, pray them again after a sermon in which their meaning has been explored in detail.  During the sermon you might walk through that part of the liturgy explaining the sequence of confession, assurance, response, and passing the peace.  You might even practice any sung responses.  Repeating the whole process after this explanation will give it more meaning today and help worshipers of all ages participate in it more fully in the future.

D After exploring David’s story and prayer, use verse 11 in a responsive prayer of confession for the whole congregation.

h h h h h h h h h h h h h h h

Leader:  Lord of all the world, there are so many things we want.  We want to eat the best food, we want to wear stylish clothes, we want to do what we want when we want to do it.  We want to be popular and successful and rich and beautiful.  We want.  We Want.  We want.

All:  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

Leader:  God of justice, too often we will do anything to get what we want.  We will break any rule.  We will lie.  We will cheat.  We will steal.  We will even hurt other people so we can have what we want.

All:  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

Leader:  God, too often it seems that each of our sins leads to more sins.  To hide the shameful things we have done, we break more rules and hurt more people.  We lose our ways in half-truths and broken promises.  Sometimes, the whole world feels dirty and lost and hopeless.

All:  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

Leader:  Have mercy on us, O God.  In your steady love and your abundant mercy, forgive our sins.

All:  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

h h h h h h h h h h h h h h h 

2 Kings 4:42-44

Elisha’s feeding 100 people with very little echoes the gospel story, but adds nothing new and different.  Rather than add it, I’d focus on just the one gospel story for the children.

Psalm 145:10-18

G In connection with the feeding story, this psalm of praise becomes a meal time blessing.  Describe mealtime blessings, not as a way to change the food, but as a way to remind the eaters that all food comes from God.  Use this as an opportunity to challenge households to adopt this practice at least once a day.  Assign this as worship homework for the coming week.  Suggest several possible blessings, including Psalm 145:10, 15-16.

All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
and all your faithful shall bless you.
The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand,
satisfying the desire of every living thing.

Psalm 145:10, 15-16

G My favorite book of mealtime blessings for families which include young children is Thank You for This Food: Action Prayers, Songs, and Blessings for Mealtime, by Debbie Trafton O’Neal.  Since it costs about $3.00 it would be possible to give a copy to each family with young children to encourage them in adopting this spiritual discipline.

G Get into the spirit of this psalm by inviting children forward to enjoy an apple slice or small cookie with you.  When they arrive, identify with them all the people who were involved in getting this treat to you.  Trace it all the way back to God who planned for the raw materials.  In a brief prayer thank God for all these people and their work and praise God for the raw materials.  Then give out and enjoy the treat.

Ephesians 3:14-21

F This is Paul’s prayer for the churches of Ephesus.  In children’s words, Paul asks that
- the Holy spirit give them power to be strong inside,
- Christ live in their hearts so that they may always act lovingly
- they will get at least a hint of the incredible, too-large-to-imagine love of God at work in the world.

F Children are more interested in the possibility of praying for the church than they are in Paul’s prayer for his churches.  Invite them to create a prayer for your particular church.

Brainstorm prayer ideas together, writing them down as you go.  Then, meld them together into one prayer you offer on behalf of the children.

Give children paper and colored pens with which to draw prayers for your church.  Before passing out the supplies, brainstorm together people or groups in your congregation for which they might pray and general things they might say to God about this congregation.  Show the children how to make a scribble prayer by drawing a large loose scribble, filling in the holes with names (or pictures) of people or groups, then decorating each hole while talking to God about that person or group in the church.  Invite the children to work on their prayers during the sermon and place them in the offering plates when they are passed.

F If Olympic fever is running high, talk about the pressure on the athletes to do their best and WIN and the secret Paul knows that God loves each one of them no matter how well they do.  Together pray for the athletes.

John 6:1-21

G See the note at the beginning of this post about saving this text to combine with next week’s John reading on a Sunday when Communion is celebrated.  To keep the focus on one story, I’d edit the reading to John 6:1-15 and 24-35 with the briefest of words about Jesus and the disciples getting to the other side of the sea between the sets of verses. 

G Include an older elementary aged boy among the readers today.  If you read only verses 1-15, have them read by the boy.  If you read verses 1-21 have the boy read verses 1-15 and a man read verses 16-21.  If you combine today’s reading with next weeks text, have a boy read verses 1-15 and a man read verse 24-35.  It might be a good father-son leadership responsibility.

G To explore the miraculous nature of the feeding and maybe Jesus walking on water, introduce either or both as surprises.  No one expected they would happen.  Wear something surprising – maybe tennis shoes or flip-flops under your robe?  Stand before the children asking what about you is surprising today.  Then ask them what question they asked when they first saw that.  With any luck, it will be “why did you wear THOSE?”  Congratulate them on asking a good question.  Tell them you wore those shoes to help them recognize the right question to ask when you see something surprising.  Go on to talk about Jesus’ feeding the crowd with one boy’s lunch.  The right question to ask is not “how did he do that?” but “why did he do that?” or “what does that mean?”  Briefly answer the “why?” question for Jesus’ surprising feeding of the crowd and encourage worshipers to ask the right question, i.e. the “why?” question, of other surprising things Jesus does.

G There are a variety of answers to the question, “Why did Jesus feed the crowd this way?  What was he trying to tell us?”  To spin them out for children try some of the following.

Jesus was telling us that he/God is very interested in getting people enough to eat.  That makes it a good day to feature feeding ministries your church supports.  Just as it was surprising that one’s boys lunch in Jesus’ hands could feed a crowd, so it is surprising how many people can eat when all of us pool our food and money.  Give out grocery sacks printed with lists of things the local food bank needs and challenge families to fill them and deposit them at the food bank or at a designated spot at the church during the coming week.

Another thing Jesus might have been telling us when he fed the crowd is, “Hey, there is enough food to go around.  All you have to do is share!”  With children this challenges their desire to get “their fair share of cookies, fries, gifts, EVERYTHING.”  Ponder what Jesus is saying to us when we feel like we have to fight to get our fair share? 

To help children understand the fact that Jesus was interested in feeding people more than just food, display pictures of people in several “feeding” professions, e.g. teachers who feed students knowledge, social service caseworkers who work to get people food AND clothes, housing, whatever they need to survive, even a doctor who give people medicine so that they will be healthy.  Discuss how each feeds people.  Offer prayers for people who feed others.

G If Communion will be celebrated this week, display the Eucharist loaf and perhaps a basket of many kinds of bread.  Point out that bread comes in many shapes and sizes and is one food that people all around the world eat every day.

With very young children, display a basket of many kinds of bread common to your community (hot dog buns, tortillas/wraps, pizza crust, sliced sandwich bread, dinner rolls, etc.)  Enjoy naming all the breads.  Then point to the bread on the table.  Remind the children that Jesus said to eat bread and drink from the cup at communion to remember him.  Suggest that today they remember that Jesus fed people.  Also urge them to remember Jesus every time they eat bread.


With older children, display a basket of breads from around the world (pitas, Russian pumpernickel, French baguettes, Indian nan, cornbread, tortillas, etc.)  Identify the different breads and the people who eat them.  Note that all the people in the world eat bread every day.  Point to the bread on the communion table and briefly ponder the possibility that Jesus chose bread as his symbol very carefully.  He wanted his symbol to be something we all recognize and share every day.  When we come to the Table we can imagine people all around the world eating bread with us.

G Allison Bauer, a minster and blogger in Pennsylvania, claims that there is more to inviting children to the Table than just handing them the bread and cup.  So one Sunday she gathered the children around the Table to talk about who is invited to the Table.  She then had them issue the invitation with her by echoing each phrase of the Invitation as she said it to the children and the congregation.  Cool idea!

G Invite worshipers to imagine themselves in the crowd Jesus fed as they sing “I Come With Joy.”


  1. An after thought: If you are tempted to add the verses that describe the death of David and Bathsheba's son as God's punishment of David, be aware that children often think this is very unfair. "Why did God kill the baby when it was David that had been so wrong!?" So, either omit this part of the story (as the lectionary creators did) or address the issue directly. Point out that innocent people are often hurt by the sins of others. Just last week I read about a little girl who was killed while selling lemonade on the curb when some men got into a gun fight up the street. This is not a totally satisfactory explanation because God rather than David "pulled the trigger" in today's story - but it is the best I can do. Anyone got a better suggestion?

  2. Our local church has various ways and means to get the children to want to come to church. Recently they had an educational reptile display which let the kids and the adults hold snakes, lizards and other animals. It was standing room only that day for the church service.
    All the best

  3. Wow - snakes! Some of us would probably gladly give up our seat that day. But, you DO have to try new things. I guess the real test is how many people came for the snakes and returned the next Sunday.

  4. Do you have any thoughts on incorporating the Olympics into worship over the next two or three weeks?

  5. Emma, I have tried to make Olympic connections and suggestions to the texts for the next few weeks - as the texts connect. So far there has not been much. Guess the 2012 Olympics was not on the radar of the lectionary constructors :) Your comment has me pondering putting together a more general Popcorn Index article on the Olympics. Since it is VBS week here, it'll be a few days 'til I can even think about that. Anyone else have ideas or resources to share with the rest of us?

  6. When using the breads from around the world I would connect that with the Olympics and people coming from all around the world. We all eat different breads but we all worship the same Bread of Life.

  7. Ahh! With the Olympic connection Communion these next two weeks can be more truly World Communion than is the regularly scheduled one the first week in October. Now there is a possibility! Thanks for pointing it out.

  8. Scripture Union in the UK is offering a series called God's Champions, with Olympic tie-in, for the summer. It's available free from their lightlive site ( You need to create an account. I have no connection with SU other than that of being a happy user.

  9. perhaps the disqualification of the badminton teams because they were not following the spirit of the rules. could work with david and bathesheba

    1. Or, is like the Chinese swimmer who may or may not have used banned drugs?

  10. If I was going to attempt to explain the David and Bathsheba story to children I would take the angle that when bad things happen to people they tend to look for a reason why it happened to them. David's baby died so David looks for a reason. The reason that made sense to hum was that he was being punished for murdering Uriah and taking his wife.
    I personally would not want to perpetuate the idea, especially in children, that God CAUSES bad things to happen as a way of punishing people. By saying that "innocent people are hurt by the sins of others" as an explanation of the text, it still puts the action on God. If God killed David and Bathsheba's baby because of David's sin, does that mean that God also killed the girl with the lemonade stand because of the sins of the gunman? It doesn't sound like that is the conclusion you are drawing but it is a slippery slope when we start to take Bible stories in which God "punishes" people in the way described in the 2 Samuel text.

    1. I agree with you. We want to do nothing to suggest that God causes bad things to happen as a way of punishing people. Especially children tend to think that way when something bad happens in their family - "I did something wrong that caused this. It is my fault." And you're right that slippery slopes abound. I fear children would get lost in your explanation and come to some unintended conclusions. The best solution, in my opinion, is to do like the lectionary creators and simply leave this part of the story out.


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