Saturday, July 7, 2012

Year B - Proper 13, 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 10th Sunday after Pentecost (August 5, 2012)

2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a and Psalm 51:1-12

The RCL calls for reading about David’s sin with Bathsheba on one week and Nathan’s story of God’s judgment on the following week – this week.  Rather than divide the story, I (and others) suggest reading and exploring both of them on the same Sunday.  This year if you do that on the last Sunday of July, you can then combine that week’s gospel story about Jesus feeding the crowd with this week’s conversation about its meaning for the first Sunday in August.  Since this is a Communion Sunday in many congregations, there are lots of ways to tie the stories to the sacrament.  If you do want to explore the David story in 2 Samuel and Psalm 51 suggestions this week, go to Year B - Proper 12, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 9th Sunday after Pentecost for my suggestions.

Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15

u Adults enjoy hearing two or more stories at the same time.  Comparing and contrasting them provides endless insights and fun.  Children, who have trouble comparing and contrasting stories, prefer to delve deeply into one story at the time.  So, there would be wisdom in working with this or with the gospel story, but not both – especially when addressing the children. 

u The story is rather long and complicated in the Bible.  Try reading it from a children’s Bible storybook.  One of my favorites is “Special Food” on page 86 of Ralph Milton’s The Family Story Bible stopping before the complaint about water.  (This could be the real scripture reading for the day.  Encourage adults who feel the need, to follow along in their pew Bibles.)

u An idea to explore with children:  In this story God surprises the people.  They wanted something to eat, but they never expected God to rain quail on them in the evening and provide manna (which means “what is it?”) in the morning.  We can teach the children to expect God to surprise them too.  We can alert them to the fact that they will often think they want one thing from God and be surprised to get something else.  Often God’s surprise, like quail and manna, will turn out to be better than what they had hoped for. 

u The Communion Connection:  At some point in the service, pick up the loaf on the Communion Table and lift it before the congregation.  Note that God promised the Hebrews traveling across the desert that they would have food (quail and manna) to eat in the desert.  God would not let them go without what they needed.  The bread on the Communion Table reminds us that God promises to give us all the things we need to live today.  God gives us not just food to eat, but love, forgiveness and the gifts we need to do God’s work.  Suggest that they remember this truth today when you raise the bread during the Eucharist and say, “The gifts of God for the people of God.”

u To help children begin to understand bread as more than food and to explore the meaning of the bread phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, identify a variety of gifts God provides for us, e.g. food, water, a balanced planet that supports us, love, forgiveness, the Bible, etc. .  Then offer a prayer in which the leader describes each listed item with the congregation responding “Give us this day our daily bread” as a response.

u Go to Year A - Proper 20, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time for a few slightly different suggestions about this story.

Psalm 78:23-29

With so much else to work with this Sunday, it makes sense to skip this poetic recall of the feeding story in Exodus.  If I were to use it, I’d add the first four verses of the psalm to set it into the context of the whole psalm.  Perhaps a liturgist could read verses 1-4 and the whole congregation read 23-29.

Ephesians 4:1-16

u Several songs and finger games children tend to know fit this text.

Substitute Paul’s characteristics for Christians (humble, patient, gentle, loving) for the usual verses of “Lord, I Want to be a Christian.”

“We are the Church Together,” by Avery and Marsh, describes the unity of many kinds of people in the church. 

The“Here Is the Church” finger-play that young children enjoy insists that the church is not a building but people.  When I goggled it I discovered there are lots of versions of this.  The one that fits today is:

Here is the church
Here is the steeple
Open the doors
See all the people.

You CAN have a church
Without any steeple.
But you CAN'T have a church
Without any people.

u Print verses 4-6 on a large poster.  With the congregation or the children highlight “one” each time it appears.  Explain that the “ones” are the glue that holds the church together.  Then, go back through identifying and briefly describing each “one.”  (Or, have worshipers find the verses in their pew Bibles.  Read the verses together shouting the word ONE each time it appears.  Then, work through each “one” as above.)

u To explore Paul’s insistence that each member of the church has gifts that the whole church needs, try one or more of the following:

u Call a series of church members forward.  As you call each one, describe one of the gifts he or she brings to the church.  (Be sure to include people of all ages and both sexes representing many areas of your congregation’s life.)  Once you have a good group gathered, note the variety and point out that each can do some things the others cannot do, but need or want, e.g. the non singers can enjoy what the singers add to worship through the choir.  Next, direct one of the group to stand off to the side.  Ponder sadly what the church would be like without his or her gift.  Happily pull the person back to the group celebrating all the gifts you enjoy together.

To take this another step, borrow a baby from a parent in the congregation.  Point out that we all enjoy babies.  We want to see them, smile at them, tickle their toes.  They make us smile and laugh just being here.  That is a gift they give us now.  Later we will learn what other gifts they bring.  But, for now making people laugh and smile is a pretty big gift.  Church would be a less wonderful place without babies.

u Give children a piece of paper featuring a large gift box divided into several sections.  Challenge them to draw or write about the gifts they can bring the church in each section.  Take time to identify some of the planned activities in which children contribute to the church and some individual gifts they give quietly give.  Invite them to drop their paper in the offering plate because these are their gifts back to God.

u Challenge the children to discover their gifts and learn how to give them to the church.  Point out that they already know some of their gifts.  Suggest that they have others they have yet to find.  Encourage them to always be on a treasure hunt to find the gifts God has buried in them to give the church and the world.

u Compare the church to some of the teams playing team games in the Olympics.  Each member of the team brings special gifts and skills that enable the whole team to play well.

u As worship homework, challenge members of households to identify the gifts they see in each other and to thank God together for those gifts.  This could be a mealtime or bedtime conversation today.

u Another way to celebrate the unity of the church is to create a huge jigsaw puzzle that represents your congregation.  Make a huge collage of photographs of the church in action, then cut it into jigsaw pieces.  Start with all the  pieces together.  Talk about who is doing what in some of the pictures.  Then break it into pieces giving each worshiper one piece to take home – maybe to put on the refrigerator door as a reminder that they belong to a big loving church family. 

u Consider replacing “we must no longer be children” in verse 14 with “we must no longer be babies” because children have no choice to be anything but children.  To save them from their common offense at the phrase, restate Paul’s message so that it says we must always work on growing up to be more like Jesus.   

u A non-bread Communion connection!  In most Christian traditions the sacrament is not celebrated individually, but always with other Christians.  Most often it is celebrated during worship services.  In some churches worshipers don’t stay in their seats, but go forward to stand and commune with others.  Even, when people are very sick, at least one and usually several people go to their bed to share the sacrament with them.  In this way we remember that we are not alone, but are part of God’s community.  Paul’s comments about unity are a great opportunity to explore this with children (and other worshipers) on a Sunday when the sacrament is celebrated.

John 6:24-35

This is the second of five readings related to the bread of life.  Since it goes so well with the first reading and since the David readings for both weeks also begged to be combined, I suggested that John 6:-1-21 and 24 -35 be read the same week.  Since, this is a Communion Sunday in many churches, it makes sense to read stories about bread this week.  But, since Proper 12 came first I ended up posting all the materials for both sets of verses on last week’s post.  So, go to Year B - Proper 12, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 9th Sunday after Pentecost - whether you will combine the texts or not.  

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