Thursday, August 9, 2012

Year B - Proper 17, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, 14th Sunday after Pentecost (September 2, 2012)

I September is being celebrated as the Season of Creation in some congregations.  There is a lectionary for this season.  Next year, after I complete a three year cycle of the RCL, I will post ideas for this important season.  To find resources now go to .


I Several of today’s texts deal with the Law – or God’s rules as the children see it.  At the beginning of the school year children are learning the rules for their new classes, teams and clubs.  The rules tell them who they are and how they act in each situation.  Knowing that is important to them.  Particularly the gospel leads to complex adult conversations about the value of rules (legalism vs. living by love).  Children are not ready for that conversation.  They are still learning the details of rules.  Looking at the content of the rules with the children enriches the understanding of the adults who go on to ask their questions about legalism.

I Since today is also a Communion Sunday in many congregations and at times reading the 10 Commandments has been part of the communion liturgy, combine reading the Commandments with James’ call to be doers rather than just hearers of the Word.  There are several ways to do this:

1.      A leader reads each commandment pausing after each one for the congregation to respond with “Be doers of the word, not just hearers .”

2.      A leader reads each commandment pausing after each one for the congregation to say a response with motions.

We will hear it with our ears   point to ears
Understand it with our brains  put hands on top of head
Claim it with our hearts           put hand on heart
Do it with our hands                open hands with palms up
Do it with our feet                    stomp each foot
And say it with our mouths     move finger from lips outward

3.      Do one of the above responsive readings but using Jesus’ two great command.  This would allow more time to delve into how each of the two (rather than ten) can be acted on.


Song of Solomon 2:8-13

I This is the only time The Song of Solomon appears in the Revised Common Lectionary.  So at some point worship leaders may want to build an entire service around introducing the book and exploring its affirmation of romantic love.  Children as well as adults benefit from this affirmation.  It offers them a high view of intimate relationships which they do not often get in other places.  If they have loving parents, it affirms that relationship and makes the children feel even more secure in their parents’ base for their family.  Do take care to remind everyone that like all the good gifts God gives us, we sometimes cannot make them work.  Divorce and fusses are sad realities.

I There is no point in presenting the idea that this is a metaphor for Christ and the church.  The children simply will not get it.  They take the poems as the love songs intended by the writer.

I To highlight the interplay in today’s reading,

1.      Have it read by a married couple.  The readers could be any age or you could have the whole text read twice once by a younger couple and again by an older couple.
Woman – verses 8-10a
Man – verses 10b - 13

2.      Have the passage read by all the couples in the congregation with the men and women reading the verses as above.  Children love watching the interaction between their parents as they read.

Note:  Yes, there could be some giggling.  Isn’t there often with love poems!  Point this out and enjoy it.

I This could also be an opportunity for couples to reaffirm marriage vows.  This is of course mainly for the couples.  But again, the children slurp up witnessing their parents doing this.  It also presents them with a high view of marriage to which to aspire for themselves.

Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9

This is a prayer a poet wrote for the king for the king’s wedding day.  If you introduce it in this way, challenge worshipers, especially children, to write a prayer for someone they know on a special day for them.  They could write a prayer for the birthday of a family member or friend.  Or, they could write a Back to School prayer for a friend or a teacher.  If you are exploring the Song of Solomon, they could write a prayer for their parents for their anniversary.  Encourage them to write the prayer on good paper, maybe decorate it, and give it to the friend – just as the psalmist probably shared his prayer with the king.  If you provide the paper and markers, this could be sermon seatwork.


Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

The basic message of this text is that good people keep good rules.  Children who are interested in the rules of all sorts of different groups are interested in this reality.  We can tell them that if we look at people we admire, we often find that they follow rules that are important to them and look good to us.  A really good soccer player knows the rules of the game so well that he or she knows what she can and cannot do at any point in the game.  A scout learns the scout laws in order to know how to live as a scout.  On the other hand, children sometimes form clubs that have rules saying you have to hate the opposite sex or must shoplift or must never speak to certain people or kinds of people.  When you hear a person’s or a group’s rules, you often know whether you want to be part of that group.  Simply encourage children to pay attention to the rules of others.  Or, take it to another level by reading the 10 Commandments or Jesus’ two great commandments as the rules Christians follow. 

Psalm 15

I This psalm is easier to follow if verses 1 and 5 b are read by one reader and the remaining verse are read by the whole congregation.  In the introduction note the first reader’s question and urge listeners to the reader’s comment after hearing the response.

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Psalm 15

Lord, who may enter your Temple?
Who may worship on Zion, your sacred hill?

Those who obey God in everything
and always do what is right,
whose words are true and sincere,
            and who do not slander others.
They do no wrong to their friends
nor spread rumours about their neighbours.
They despise those whom God rejects,
but honour those who obey the Lord.
      They always do what they promise,
no matter how much it may cost.
They make loans without charging interest
and cannot be bribed to testify against the innocent.

Whoever does these things will always be secure.

From TEV translation

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James 1:17-27 

I The Roman Catholic lectionary streamlines this reading in a way that is helpful to children.  It omits the mirror image and the teaching about the dangers of the tongue which is explored more fully in Proper 19.

James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27

Every good gift and every perfect present comes from heaven; it comes down from God, the Creator of the heavenly lights, who does not change or cause darkness by turning.  By his own will he brought us into being through the word of truth, so that we should have first place among all his creatures.  So get rid of every filthy habit and all wicked conduct. Submit to God and accept the word that he plants in your hearts, which is able to save you.
Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead, put it into practice. What God the Father considers to be pure and genuine religion is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering and to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world.

                                                            From the TEV translation
I The key verse and main thing children grasp is “Be doers of the word, not just hearers.”  To explore its meaning start with the frequent retort, “I know that” when a child is confronted with an obvious fact, e.g. you love your little brother or it is dangerous to play in the street.  What follows is generally questions about if you know that why did you do what you just did?!!!!  Parents and other adults agree with James that your actions must match what you know or say. 

I Explain what a rough life widows and orphans faced in Jesus’ day.  Detail ways James’ hearers would have needed to take care of widows and orphans.  Then, ask who are the people on the edge or in need of our care today, e.g. any younger child, someone just learning a game you know well, families who can't get enough food, etc.  Then put verse 27 into words that include those people as well as the widows and orphans. 

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

I To emphasize the story call people forward to help read scripture about a picnic, give them some trail mix to eat as you read the first few verses.  As they eat point out the difference between clean hands and undefiled hands   Undefiled hands have been washed with ritual words, clean hands are just clean.  (This explanation takes the place of reading verses 3-4.)  Invite them to keep eating as you read the scripture.  The scribes should be seated near the very front of the congregation and come from there to pose their question.

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Mark 7:1-2, 5-8, 14-15, 21-23

Narrator/Jesus as scribes rise to look questioningly at those on the steps:  Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him,

2 or 3 Scribes one who speaks:  Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?

Narrator/Jesus standing up among the munchers to speak first to the Scribes
Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
         in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition. 
Speaking past the scribes to the congregation
Listen to me, all of you, and understand:  there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.  For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

                                                                        From NRSV

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I Be clear with the children that Jesus is not saying that we do not have to wash our hands.  Jesus is saying God doesn’t love us because we do rituals about everything. 

I Explore a variety of ways the words clean and dirty are used.  A scout is to be clean in thought, word and deed.  A person who has no drugs in their body is clean.  A person with no criminal record is clean.  Then there are dirty words, dirty pictures, dirty names, etc.  All of these uses of clean and dirty are metaphors, but are used so commonly that children quickly grasp that clean is another word for good and dirty is another word for bad.  Mark is saying that we are called not to be spic and span clean, but to stay away from all the bad stuff.

I “Create in me a clean heart, O God” from Psalm 51 is a good prayer for today.  If you worked with it in connection with the David and Bathsheba story, recall that.  Then, connect the verse to the gospel picnic to insist that God is more interested in clean hearts than clean hands.  Create a responsive prayer of confession in which the congregation responds to each confession with “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” 


  1. --nelia beth scovillAugust 17, 2012 at 4:02 PM

    I like what you do with the Song of Solomon but find that it really priveleges heterosexuality...for those in a open and affirming congregations, why not get a number of people who have been in long-term committed relationships do I recall from seminary days, it is unlikely that the two depicted in this were actually married (after all Solomon had 300 wives and 700 concubines!)

  2. -nelia Beth, I'm glad you weighed in. I stewed about that same issue. The reason I did as I did was that I could not picture any of the homosexual couples in my congregation reading these verses in public. Actually, I can think of a number of heterosexual couples who would also hesitate. Anyone else have any insights on this one?

  3. Is there no such thing as the sanctity of marriage anymore? A long-term committed relationship is not the same thing as a marriage. Is there no such thing as sexual sin anymore?

    1. This blog is all about how we include children in the congregation's worship. Doing that often leads us to explore and clarify our adult commitments and beliefs. That is a good thing. But, the people who visit the blog have many different beliefs and I have mine which are often obvious and for which I offer no apology. So, in order to make space for all of us with all of our diversity to work together on behalf of the children, I want to avoid becoming a platform for discussion of adult issues.

  4. I have been reading many commentaries on the Song of Songs passage and there is concensus that the couple in the poem were NOT married but WERE faithful to one another. Therefore, any hermeneutical application of the text could allow for a number of pairings between committed partners, even and maybe especially my 80-something year old congregants who are "living in sin" (their words). Children can see and understand the beauty of loyal and enduring partnerships between best friends. Older children who can compare the song of songs with the garden of eden story may be interested to see the similarities between relationships gone wrong (Eden) and relationships restored (songs).

    1. I think you might be stretching it hoping the children will make the connection you describe in the last sentence. Teenagers, yes. Children, I doubt it.

  5. You don't know my fifth grade genius!

  6. You're right - but I wish I did because I love fifth grade geniuses. They are pure delight and make such creative connections between all sorts of things! Just remember that not all fifth graders are geniuses.

  7. Bless you, Carolyn for all this hard, creative, and fruitful work and for your pastoral response above.


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