Friday, September 21, 2012

Year B - Proper 23, 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 20th Sunday after Pentecost (October 14, 2012)

Today’s texts explore complicated adult concerns.  Children will be lost in many of them.  But, we can explore with the children some of the literal basics that underlie these adult conversations and in the process enrich the thinking of the adults too.

“Jesus Loves Me” may be the summary song for the week.  Like the young man in Mark we all depend on Jesus who it turns out does love us and stand with us (see Hebrews).  We know that because of the Word we find in the Bible (also Hebrews). 

Job 23:1-9, 16-17

L The RCL skips over the “consolations” of Jobs friends and goes straight to Job’s complaints today.  The Children’s Bible in 365 Stories, by Mary Batchelor, offers a summary of the arguments of the friends and Job’s insistence of his innocence and complaint to God in “Cheering Job Up?”  It can be read in 3 minutes by one person or as reader’s theater by a Narrator, 3 friends, and Job.  I might read it before reading the biblical text.

L This story is important to children for two reasons:
1. It insists that Job did not suffer because he had done something bad.  Children, even more than adults, tend to blame themselves for doing something bad that caused pain in their family – a death, parental divorce, illness of a family member or themselves, a devastating accident, etc.  This is an opportunity to tell them directly that God does not do that to Job or to us.  They will not hear it in the story, but will depend on us to tell them directly.

2.  It is OK to feel lost and lonely and angry with God.  Since the vast majority of the stories and talk they hear about God describe God as loving us and with us all the time, children assume that everyone but them feels God’s loving presence all the time.  This is an opportunity to tell them directly that that is not so.  Everyone has times when we feel God is far away from us.  There are also times when we want to yell at God.  Lots of the time we pray “thank you, God” or “you are great, God” or “help me, God.”  But it is also OK to pray “that is not fair, God” and “I don’t like this, God” and “why did you let this happen, God.”  Just as we can tell our best friends and people in our families the things that hurt us and make us angry, we can tell them to God. 

One way to conclude this discussion is to collect and pray complaining prayers.  An informal congregation might do this together.  More formal ones will have to depend on the worship leaders to make the list.  Complaints children might offer include illness, the death of pets, fights that they cannot control, scary storms,….

WARNING: The RCL saves God’s answer to Job’s complaints for next Sunday and the resolution of the story for the following Sunday.  Young attention spans are not that long.  At the very least let them know that God answered Job, that Job thought it was a good answer, and that you will hear about the answer next week. 

Psalm 22:1-15

L Introduce this as a prayer Jesus prayed while he was dying on the cross and that Job might have prayed when everything was going so wrong for him.  Encourage children to listen for “how bad it is phrases.”  Translate the opening line “My God why have you abandoned me?,” to “God, why have you left me on my own when I need you most?”

Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

G This prophecy that Israel will be punished for their unjust treatment of the poor is probably included among today’s readings to expand on the gospel message about wealth.  But it can confuse children if read the same day we read Job’s complaint.  So be careful.

G Because the vocabulary is hard for children, if I did read this text, I’d read it from the TEV which makes more immediate sense.  It is also important to set the verses in context before reading them.

Psalm 90:12-17

Consider reading more of this psalm.  Go to  Year A - Proper 25 for ideas and a script for reading more of this psalm.

Hebrews 4:12-16

& Children do not understand verse 12 as it is read.  However, the verse can be used as an invitation to explore the role of the Bible in worship with them.  Begin by saying that God’s Word is another name for the Bible.  Then, try some of the following:

1.  Print WORD on a poster.  Define it at the beginning of the service and let it sponsor the day’s worship ala Sesame Street.

2.   Give each child a strip of Bible stickers to put in the order of worship every time they read or sing from the Bible.  Older children will match it to lines in the order of worship.  Younger children will simply use the Bible stickers to decorate their page.  Both will have celebrated the connection between the Bible and worship.

3. Explain any prayers or rites your congregation follows around the reading of scripture.  In some churches that would include the response “The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.”  Point it out, say what it means, and practice it.  In churches which carry a Bible into the sanctuary in procession, explain why you do this and re-enact the processional.

4. If your congregation uses special Bibles in worship, introduce them.  Tell the history of those with interesting stories.  Explain why you display a special Bible in the worship center.  If this is a children’s time bring the Bible down so the children can see and even touch it.

5. After explaining the worship Bibles, point out that the books themselves are not what is special.  What is special is the words in those books.  Encourage the children to listen carefully to and learn those words.


G Verses 13-16 are about the fact that God/Jesus knows everything we do.  The big word is OMNISCIENCE.  The child version is ALL-KNOWING.  If you started a poster of Hebrew's words describing Christ last week, add one of these words today.  If you are not keeping a running poster, turn one or both of these words into a big poster or banner.  Present it at the beginning of the service.  Take time to pronounce and define the word/s and to encourage worshipers of all ages to listen for it and for ideas about God knowing us completely during worship.

Christ Pantocrator at Hagia Sophia
from Wikipedia Commons

G The idea of God judging us may be new to children who hear more about God’s unending love.  Introduce the idea with two pictures of Jesus.  First, go to one of Jesus with the children.  Elaborate a little on ways we know God loves us.  Then produce a picture of Christ the Judge.  Identify the differences.  This Jesus looks very powerful and important.  This Jesus looks a little scary.  Read Hebrews 4:13 noting that it goes with this picture.  Insist that both pictures are of Jesus.  That the same Jesus who loves us also judges us.  So we are safe.  But, we also try to be our best for Jesus the Judge.

There is nothing that can be hidden from God; everything in all creation is exposed and lies open before his eyes. And it is to him that we must all give an account of ourselves.  (TEV)

G WARNING: Children can misunderstand this passage from Hebrews to say that God is the scary Judge and Jesus is the nice guy who protects us from scary God.  The clearest way to avoid that is to name it and say it is not the way things are.

G If you use the Apostles’ Creed in worship regularly, point out the phrase “he will come to judge the living and the dead.”  Put it into your own words.  If you use the traditional “quick and the dead,” be sure to explain that the quick are those who are alive – us!  Only then invite all worshipers to stand to say the creed together.  (It might be helpful to direct people to open their hymnals to the Apostles’ Creed for this discussion and the following reading.)

G Most children have made yarn God’s eyes.  Display one and explain its meaning as a symbol of God watching us all the time. 

Take it to another level by giving children (or all worshipers?) a plastic bag filled with two craft sticks and several lengths of colored yarn with which to create their own God’s eyes while they listen to a sermon about God’s knowing us through and through.  Help them get started by having the craft sticks already tied together and the central diamond started.

Mark 10:17-31

$ In today’s world when many cannot sew, children may need a prop to understand “the eye of the needle.”  Demonstrate threading a needle using either a tapestry needle or a plastic child’s needle and a piece of yarn.  In a smaller room you might also want to display a real sewing needle and the thread that must go through that tiny hole.  Then with your hands show how big a camel is.  Finally, reread what Jesus said and put his message into your own words. 

$ To recall the “eye of the needle” at the end of the service, prepare children to form arches with their arms (similar to the bridges in the game “London Bridge Is Falling Down”) at each of the exits.  Worshipers will have to stoop to go through those arches (or needle eyes) and into a week as disciples.  Coach the children to say “Go in peace, God loves you” to each worshiper who passes through their arch.

$ The basic message of the story of the rich young man for children is that Jesus wants us to share our money with others who need it.  Because children are less familiar with the intricacies of money and because they think concretely, we often involve them in collecting food, books, and other items for people who need them.  But, they need to hear early that we are also meant to share our money.  Go to Children, Money and the Sanctuary on my blog for a collection of ideas about how to explore the use of money with children in the sanctuary.  This might be especially useful if this is the stewardship season in your congregation.

The Quiltmaker’s Gift, by Jeff Brumbeau, is a parallel to the story of the rich young ruler, but with a happy ending.  An old quilter makes the most beautiful quilts in the world, but only for the poor.  A king so greedy that he decided to have two birthdays every year and demanded gifts from all his subjects on each birthday heard of her quilts and wanted one.  He hoped that it would make him happy, though none of his other possessions did.  She refused to give him one.  He punished her, but each time she escaped his punishments through kind deeds.  Finally he vowed to give away all his gifts and she promised to add a square to his quilt for each one he gave away.  In the process he does indeed find happiness.  It takes at least 15 minutes to read aloud – and could be a great stewardship season all by itself.  Save 5 minutes by omitting the story of bear and the sparrows who save the woman from the king.

The illustrations are part of the magic of this book.  If you do projections during worship, enlist the aid of a techie with artistic flair to scan pieces of it to show as the story is read.  (A seminary professor tells me that if you have purchased a copy of the book and share the scanned show with no one else, you are not in violation of copyright laws.)

$ The real Saint Nicholas’ rich parents died when he was young leaving him to be raised by his uncle.  The uncle taught Nicholas the importance and joy of sharing his wealth.  Throughout his life Nicholas found ways to use his money to help people.  He is best known for leaving money to save children from being sold into slavery or to giving poor girls dowries so they could marry.  Wikipedia has a good basic article about his life.  Saint Nicholas, by Ann Tompert, is a collection of stories about his giving ways.  The book is too long to read in its entirety but one or two stories could be told or read.

$ Many point out that this story is more about grace than about what we do with all our stuff.  Real happiness and meaning are not found in stuff.  Another Christmas story that makes this point is How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss.  Because it is so familiar, all you may need is a few lines,

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling:  “How could it be so?
“It came without ribbons!  It came without tags!
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

$ Before singing “Take My Life and Let it Be,” identify all the parts of us that are mentioned – life, hands, voice, silver and gold, moments, feet, lips, intellect, will, heart, love, myself.  (It is easy to find them in the Presbyterian hymnal because they are at the beginning of the first two lines of the song as it is printed on the page.)  Next, point out “take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold.”  Explain that silver and gold are not just metals.  They stand for money.  A mite is a little tiny bit of something.  Rephrase the hymn “take my money, not a penny would I hold back.”  Talk about how hard that is to sing, then invite worshipers of all ages to sing it together.


  1. Thanks for your wisdom! Do you have any suggestions for congregations recognizing children's sabbath (Oct 13) - connecting the texts to child advocacy?

  2. Good question, Anonymous!!!! Rather than answer you here I wrote a fresh post about Children's Sabbath on this blog and put it on the Facebook page. I will also ponder it as I work on the texts for October 21. So thank you for raising a good subject!


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