Thursday, September 12, 2013

Year C – Proper 23, 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, 21st Sunday after Pentecost (October 13, 2013)

My goodness this IS an overload Sunday.  It is the Sunday before Thanksgiving in Canada and Children’s Sabbath in the USA.  The 2 Kings story of the healing of Naaman and the gospel story of the healing of the 10 lepers appear several times in the lectionary.  The Naaman story appeared on July 7, 2013.  The gospel story is a Thanksgiving Day text for Year A.  (Canadians, After I post this material I will go to work on and post the Thanksgiving Day ideas for Year C so you can have them in time.  We Americans will catch up with you in November.)  As I said, there are lots of choices to be made.

If you are keeping the Children’s Sabbath in USA, one theme to explore is LISTENING TO or PAYING ATTENTION TO PEOPLE.  Jeremiah instructed the people who were being led into captivity in another country to get to know their new cities and the people in them.  They were to pray for them.  Naaman was cured because he listened to the little slave girl and his servant.  Jesus listened to the lepers calling out to him.  In today’s world worshipers of all ages need to work at listening to people around them and responding to their needs. 

Go to Children's Defense Fund for all sorts of resources for celebrating Children’s Sabbath.

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

c  Jeremiah insists that God’s people living in exile look around, get to know the people and place where they are living, and contribute to its well being.  Children today need to be reminded that they are to look around themselves and notice what is going on with other people in their family, neighborhood, class, team….   They are to both pray for these people and also do things that make life better for all these people.  That makes this an opportunity to introduce several methods of intercessory prayer and explore the reality that praying for someone usually leads us to take act on their behalf.

  • If your congregation publicly collects prayer concerns before a prayer that focuses on intercession, take time to explain what you are doing and why. 
  • Introduce the practice of praying on the run, i.e. offering very short silent prayers for a person while you are with them, e.g. “She looks really unhappy, God.  Please take care of her.”
  • Many children’s bedtime prayers include a long list of “God blesses.”  Encouraging children to pray this list thoughtfully adding people they have encountered during the day who they want to name to God, encourages them to see other people and develop a sense of relationship with them.  For younger children simply naming people, “God bless my teacher,” is enough.  Older children can be more specific, “God thank you for my teacher.  I really like him.” Or “God, help my teacher.  She was really crabby today.  Help her feel happier tomorrow.”  (A children’s time about this subtly encourages parents to work on this practice at home.  Including it in The Sermon invites children to listen to sermons and encourages adults to practice bedtime reflection on their day and intercessory prayer based on the day.  Bedtime prayers are NOT just a kid thing.)

c Often the “God blesses” sound like a list of our favorite people and activities.  Jeremiah challenges his readers to pray for those who are holding them captive.  The Story of Ruby Bridges may be the best parallel story from fairly recent history.  First grader Ruby was one of the African American children who integrated a white school in the 1960s.  Every day for months she was escorted by policemen through a crowd of jeering, angry adults to a classroom where she for a long time was the only student.  She told her teacher that each day she asked God to forgive the people in the crowd.  Ruby obviously knew how to pray for other people.  Her church and family had taught her that practice and prayed with her.  This story is often read to children as a window into racial problems in America.  Today, tell it and explore it as an example of the possibility of praying for those who are definitely not your friends.  Ruby’s prayer was:

Please, God, try to forgive those people.
Because even if they say those bad things,
They don't know what they're doing.
So You could forgive them,
Just like You did those folks a long time ago.

c Praying for others is only half the task.  We are also to work on the behalf of those for whom we pray.  As children pay attention to people around them and pray for them, they can say kind words to people who don’t get many kind words.  They can make friends with those who don’t have many friends.  They can comfort a person who is sad.  They can congratulate and celebrate with someone who done something really cool.  They become God’s partners in making what they prayed for happen.

Psalm 66:1-12

This is a hard psalm for children to follow.  This year I would save it for the adults. 

2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c

c This story appears 3 times in the lectionary, but remains unfamiliar to most children and adults.  Though it is not long, it is filled with complex action.  That makes it a good candidate for pantomiming as read.  An older children’s or youth class could do the pantomiming.   It would also be interesting to use players of the appropriate age for each character.  Players might wear jeans and dark shirts.  Most characters have one defining prop. 

This could simply be the scripture reading for the day.  Or, you could ask the characters to stay in place on stage and move into the sermon by moving among the character, commenting on their actions.  With prepared players, you could even have conversation with the characters about what they did and how it felt.  Whichever you do, some rehearsal is required.

Players and Props/costumes:

(military headgear – a costume helmet or a modern military/police officer hat)

Naaman’s wife (hand held mirror)

Naaman’s wife’s servant girl (hairbrush)

Naaman’s servant (no prop – he will carry the scroll between the kings)

King of Syria (crown and a rolled paper scroll)

King of Israel (crown)

Elisha (no prop)

Elisha’s servant (no prop)

Jordan River
     (a 2-3 yard long piece of muddy colored fabric held by a
       person at each end)


Reader/Stage Manager:  Our story today is only fifteen verses long but involves eight characters, two kingdoms, and one river.  First, of course, the kings:  There is the king of Syria. 
Beckon deferentially for the King of Syria in his crown to take his place.

And there is the King of Israel – a much smaller country and so a less important king, but still a king. 

Beckon deferentially for the King of Israel in his crown to take his place, possibly on a lower step from the king of Syria.

And there is Naaman the general of the army of the King of Syria – another very important man. 

Grandly direct Naaman to a spot near the King of Syria.

Naaman has a wife - I forget her name.  And the wife has a young servant girl - who cares what her name was. 

Point dismissively to their spots.

Naaman also has a servant, sort of his right hand man. 

Point to a spot by Naaman for his servant.

That is the cast in Syria.  Over here in Israel, there is also a prophet named Elisha.  The prophet also has a servant.

Point to spots for Elisha and his servant. 

There are several large, beautiful rivers in Syria, but for our story the important river is the muddy little Jordan River in Israel.

Spread out the muddy river and show the river shakers where to stand or describe the muddy Jordan River pointing to where it is to be imagined.

Oh, our story involves a disease, a dreaded disease, called leprosy.  It was and is a horrible disease.  Its symptoms are sores that do not heal and spread.  Eventually toes, fingers and even whole limbs fall off.  In the time at which our story takes place, people were so frightened of the disease that victims were sent away from their homes and communities.  They lived together in caves.  Some of their families or kind folk from town left food and clothes for them near the caves, but they never got very close.  When no food appeared the lepers had to call out to travelers begging for what they needed.  Today we have drugs to treat leprosy.  But, in the days of our story there were no cures.

Shiver and shake your head as you conclude this description.

Now, we are ready for our story.  It begins with Naaman at home in Syria.

Point to Naaman.

Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, was highly respected and esteemed by the king of Syria, because through Naaman the Lord had given victory to the Syrian forces.

Naaman stands tall and folds his arms across his chest.

He was a great soldier, but he suffered from a dreaded skin disease.

Naaman inspects the back of his hand and hides it behind himself.

In one of their raids against Israel, the Syrians had carried off a little Israelite girl, who became a servant of Naaman’s wife. 

Servant girl pretends to brush mistress’s hair.

One day she said to her mistress, “I wish that my master could go to the prophet who lives in Samaria! He would cure him of his disease.” 

Servant girl pantomimes speaking.  Mistress turns to listen, then turns toward Naaman and reaches out to him.

When Naaman heard of this, he went to the king and told him what the girl had said.  The king said, “Go to the king of Israel and take this letter to him.”

Naaman turns toward the king of Syria.  The king gives him a letter (rolled up piece of paper).

When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes in dismay and exclaimed, “How can the king of Syria expect me to cure this man? Does he think that I am God, with the power of life and death? It’s plain that he is trying to start a quarrel with me!”

Naaman bows before the king of Israel and hands him the letter.  The king opens it, reads it, and puts his hands over his face or makes other signs of despair.

When the prophet Elisha heard what had happened, he sent word to the king: “Why are you so upset? Send the man to me, and I’ll show him that there is a prophet in Israel!”

Elisha puts his hand to his ear as if listening, then sends his servant to the king.  The servant bows to the king who sits/stands up and looks relieved.  As the servant backs up to take his place beside Elisha, the king looks at Naaman and points toward Elisha.

So Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and stopped at the entrance to Elisha’s house. 

Naaman and his servant go to Elisha. The servant pretends to knock on the door.

Elisha sent a servant out to tell him to go and wash himself seven times in the River Jordan, and he would be completely cured of his disease.

Elisha’s servant standing in front of Elisha, pretends to open the door and points toward the river, then closes the door.

But Naaman left in a rage, saying, “I thought that he would at least come out to me, pray to the Lord his God, wave his hand over the diseased spot, and cure me!  Besides, aren’t the rivers Abana and Pharpar, back in Damascus, better than any river in Israel? I could have washed in them and been cured!”

Naaman stamps his feet, scowls, and puts his hands on his hips.

His servant went up to him and said, “Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something difficult, you would have done it. Now why can’t you just wash yourself, as he said, and be cured?” 

Naaman’s servant, cautiously taps Naaman on the shoulder, pretends to speak reasoning with his master using his hands to suggest the possibility of trying the river.  Naaman listens, shrugs his shoulders, and turns toward the river.

So Naaman went down to the Jordan, dipped himself in it seven times, as Elisha had instructed, and he was completely cured. His flesh became firm and healthy, like that of a child. 

Naaman squats sever times pretending to pour water over his head each time.  His servant keeps count on his fingers for both Naaman and the congregation.  (Or, have muddy brown cloth fabric laying on the floor as a river.  People standing at the ends pick it and wave it in front of Naaman seven times as the servant keeps count.)  After the seventh dip Naaman looks at his hand in amazement, shows it to his servant.  Both show signs of joy (maybe a high five?)

He returned to Elisha with all his men and said, “Now I know that there is no god but the God of Israel…”.

Naaman and his servant return to Elisha’s door.   The servant knocks again.  Elisha pretends to open the door this time.  Naaman and his servant bow before Elisha.

(Biblical story is from Today’s English Version)

c God works through the powerless is the key idea of this story for children.  Children, who often feel powerless and sense their ideas are ignored, are delighted that a little girl is the heroine.  She speaks up and is listened to.  Naaman actually takes her idea to the king, who produces a letter of introduction to a second king, then travels to find the prophet she mentions.  Naaman’s powerless servant is the other hero who speaks up to convince his master that he ought to try following the prophet’s instructions.  All the “powerful” people in the story (General Naaman and the two kings) save the day by submitting to the advice of the “powerless.”  That preaches on many levels.  It assures children that God works through them now (not when they grow up) and encourages them to speak up and act boldly based on what they know about what God wants and does.  On Children’s Sabbath it calls the adults to pay attention to and take seriously what children say. 

c With the area where this story is set being so much in the news right now, point to Syria, Damascus and Israel on a map or globe.  Note briefly what is going on there now and insist that this story happened thousands of years ago in that place.  This gives the story a sense of reality to older children.

Psalm 111

c This psalm is one of the alphabet psalms.  It might be titled “The ABCs of Praising God.”  A group of children (a class or choir?) might read the psalm to the congregation with each child reading one lettered line and the minister or other worship leader saying the letter of the Hebrew alphabet before each lines.  Or, the congregation might read the lines after a worship leaders says each Hebrew letter.


Psalm 111
The ABCs of Praising God

All                   Praise the Lord!

Aleph               With all my heart I will thank the Lord.

Bet                   In the assembly of God’s people I will praise the Lord.

Gimel              How wonderful are the things the Lord does!

Dalet               All who are delighted with them want to understand them.

He                   All God does is full of honor and majesty!

Waw                God’s righteousness is eternal.

Zain                 The Lord does not let us forget these wonderful actions.

Het                  The Lord is kind and merciful.

Tet                   God provides food for those who honor him.

Yod                  The Lord never forgets his covenant.

Kaph               God has shown his power to his people

Lamed             The Lord gave them the lands of foreigners.

Mem                Everything God does is faithful and just.

Nun                 All the Lord’s commands are dependable.

Samek              They last for all time.

Ain                  They were given in truth and righteousness.

Pe                    God set his people free

Zade                The Lord made an eternal covenant with them.

Qoph               Holy and mighty is God’s name!

Resh                The way to become wise is to honor the Lord;

Shin                 The Lord gives sound judgment to all who obey his commands.

Taw                 God is to be praised for ever.

Based on the TEV


c When the story of Namaan appears on The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany (Year B) the lectionary pairs it with Psalm 30.  Go to Year B - Sixth Sunday After Epiphany for suggestions for using this psalm as a psalm Naaman and the leper might have prayed after they were healed.

2 Timothy 2:8-15


c Paul is still giving Timothy advice.  Today he is urging him to be persistent in his ministry.  Children will not hear what he is saying as his words are read.  One way to share his advice with children is to introduce the word “persevere.”  Print it in large letters on a large sheet of paper.  Practice saying it together.  Then tell them that it means “stick with it” or “don’t give up.”  Explore the meaning of perseverance with one of the stories below. Conclude by noting that Paul wanted Timothy to persevere in his work as a minister.  He was to keep at it even on the days when it wasn’t very interesting or exciting and on the days when it felt hard, even dangerous.

c Tales about perseverance:  In Lord of the Rings Frodo and Sam must overcome many obstacles to get their ring back to where it belongs.  The same is true of Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy on their adventures in The Chronicles of Narnia.  While it sounds more exciting to persevere in the kinds of daring tasks they did, we are called on to do the same in refusing to give up on learning hard subjects at school, conquering our fears, etc. 

c A few real life stories about perseverance:

When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876.  After making a demonstration call, President Rutherford Hayes said, "That's an amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one of them?"

When Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, he tried over 2000 experiments before he got it to work. A young reporter asked him how it felt to fail so many times. He said, "I never failed once. I invented the light bulb. It just happened to be a 2000-step process."

Many famous authors got dozens of rejection slips before their books get accepted for publication and go on to become best sellers.

c Pray for perseverance. Invite worshipers of all ages to name times they feel like giving up.  Either gather the list, then let a leader voice prayers on behalf of the congregation or turn the suggestions into prayers as they are offered by asking the congregation to respond to each one “God, help us to persevere.”

Luke 17:11-19

c Before reading the scripture gather 10 “lepers” at the front.  The lepers might be a collection of folks of different ages – including at least one child.  Or, they might come from a single class of older children, youth, or adults.  As the lepers come forward pose each one handing them, even wrapping them in props that describe the life of lepers.  You will need several big cloth bandages to wrap around limbs.
  1. Instruct one to wrap up an arm as you describe the open, oozing sores.
  2. Tie a bandage around the head of another, explaining that the sores could show up anywhere, even on your head.
  3. Put a sticky bandage across another’s nose and imagine what it would feel like if you had sores right in the middle of your face.
  4. Wrap a bandage vertically around one’s head covering the ears noting that sometimes the sores on ones ears made the ears fall off completely.
  5. Have another make a fist and wrapped it up in a bandage as you point out that fingers often got so diseased that they fell off. 
  6. Hand another a crutch or cane and bend one leg up so their toe just balances on the floor, noting that toes also fell off. 
  7. Tell one to put his/her hands out in the stay away gesture telling how contagious leprosy is and noting that people had to live away from town, often in caves. 
  8. Get another down on knees with hands outstretched to beg explaining that the only way they could get food was for people to bring it to them.  Note that some families regularly brought food to a family member living with the lepers, but others had to beg from passers-by. 
  9. Throw a larger raggedly piece of cloth around the shoulders of another pointing out that they were also dependent on others to bring them clothes which meant they were often wearing dirty ragged clothes.
  10. Sit one down on the floor facing away from everyone with head in hands looking down.  Imagine how discouraged and sad one would get living this way, often for years, with no hope of getting better.
Either pose the lepers then read the story, thank the lepers, and send them back to their seats. 


Involve the lepers in telling the rest of the story.  (This will require one brief rehearsal with the lepers.)  Point out that one day all these lepers saw Jesus coming.  Knowing that he had cured people with many diseases they called out to him saying “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”  Ask several of the lepers or people in the congregation to say the phrase the way they think the lepers would have said it.  Instruct the lepers to be ready to say the phrase when it appears in the story.  Then go to the lectern to read the story.  Point to the lepers to call out in verse 13.  All lepers then all move slowly off toward the side in verse 14.  The tenth leper who was discouraged slowly turns and comes back to the center facing the reader, kneels and raises his or her arms in praise.  The reader takes the role of Jesus, stepping toward the leper, reciting verses 17-19 while holding out a hand to the leper, pulling him to his feet, and turning him to join the others.  The leper walks off.  The reader turns to the congregation to say “The Word of the Lord.”

c Because children are constantly reminded to say “please” and “thank you,” this story can sound like one more demand for good manners.  The trick is to get past good manners to the gratitude that underlies the spoken “thank you.”  One way to do that is to focus on identifying our blessings rather than on saying thank you. 

Define blessing as something wonderful that makes your life good and that you did not earn or provide for yourself.  Note that anything can be a blessing - or not.  Food is a good example.  In the movie Shenandoah, the father of a family prays over a table loaded with good food, “We planted it, tended it, harvested it, and cooked it.  Nothing would be on this table if we had not put it there, but thanks anyway.”  Food was not a blessing to that man.  Another prayer over food is describes each wonderful dish on the table and where the food in it came from thanking God for creating each fruit and vegetable and meat.  For that person, food is a blessing. 

Recite the first line of The Doxology.  Name some of your blessings.  Ask other worshipers to name some of their blessings.  Then, invite the whole congregation to sing the Doxology.

Print the words to “For the Beauty of the Earth” in the center of a page leaving ample margins around the edges.  Invite children to write and draw their blessings around the margins to illustrate the hymn.  The words of the hymn may offer then suggestions or they may draw things and people not mentioned in the hymn.

Using hymnbooks or the printed pages above, together walk through the words of “For the Beauty of the Earth” identifying examples of all the blessings listed.  Also count all the different kinds of blessings you find there.  Then sing the hymn.

1 comment:

  1. another wonderful recent example that would relate to the Jeremiah passage is that of Malala Yousafzai, who was interviewed by Jon Stewart recently. This is from "Business Insider": "In the key moment of the interview, Stewart asked her how she reacted when she learned that the Taliban wanted her dead. Her answer was absolutely remarkable:

    I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, 'If he comes, what would you do Malala?' then I would reply to myself, 'Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.' But then I said, 'If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.' Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that 'I even want education for your children as well.' And I will tell him, 'That's what I want to tell you, now do what you want.'"

    Read more:


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