There are choices to be made by worship planners this weekend.
Halloween was on Thursday night, but will probably be celebrated in many communities on Friday and on into the weekend. The Habakkuk reading and the format of Psalm 119 provide great opportunities for meditating on our fears.
All Saints Day was on Friday, but will be celebrated in many churches on Sunday. If you are one of those, go to All Saints Day - Year C. But also check out these texts since there are some interesting connections. Another possibility to consider is the gospel text about life after death found in Proper 27. It could be moved here saving Zaccheus for next week. Go to Proper 27 (Year C) to see the details.
And, if you live in the USA it is time change Sunday. So no matter what texts you select, remember to set your clock back an hour to claim that wonderful extra hour of sleep.
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
F Habakkuk complains about the violence and injustice that are causing so much pain in the world. He speaks in generalities about what everyone fears and then delivers God’s promise that the violence and evil will not be the final word. On Halloween we practice facing up to our fears. We tell scary stories, walk through haunted houses, and dress up as monsters. Children’s Halloween picture books range from tales in which heroes rise above their fears and in the process prove the scary thing or place is not so scary after all to tales in which monsters are shown to be just like us. (There is even a take-off on Good Night Moon called Good Night Goon in which a young monster says goodnight to all the scary-to-us stuff that is part of his everyday life and a similar take off on Runaway Bunny called Runaway Mummy.)
F Display a not-too-scary mask (remember it doesn’t take much to scare the youngest). Handle it, describe how it might frighten you but then point out that it is just a mask and not all that scary. Use this as an entry to identifying the things we really fear – that bullies at school will go after us, that something bad will happen to someone we love, that we will get lost, that there will be a war where we live, that we will never be able to do what we want most to do…. If the children’s fears lead to talking about adult fears about jobs, the economy, world conflicts, etc., the children learn that fear is part of life. They will then be ready to hear God’s promise to Habakkuk and us in Habakkuk 2:2-4.
“Those who are evil will not survive,
but those who are righteous will live
because they are faithful to God.”
F The TEV provides the translation of verse 4 that makes most sense to children: “Those who are evil will not survive, but those who are righteous will live because they are faithful to God.” Write it in large letters on a big poster. Have fun seeing if someone running up the aisle can read it while running. Then, note that God’s goal in asking Habakkuk to write the message so big was that God wanted everyone to read it and know that God was on the side of the faithful and against the evil.
F Suggest that everyone in the congregation hold hands because you are going to talk about scary things. Then start with Halloween-y things and progress to the violent scary parts of everyday life for people of all ages. Read Habakkuk 2:2-4 again, explaining some of its meaning related to the fears you have named. Shake hands loose or clap hands to celebrate not having to be afraid because God is with us and will not all the bad things have the last word.
F Some Things Are Scary, by Florence Parry Heide, is a random collection of things that scare children. Turn to some of them to be sure the things that scare children as well as the things that scare adults get attention today.
F Display a large poster or some other item with an Alpha and Omega on it (maybe a stole or parament). Explain its meaning and connect it with Habakkuk’s message. Just as God was in charge at the beginning, God will be in charge at the end, so we don’t have to worry. We can trust God.
F Sing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” after Halloween and in response to Habakkuk’s list of all the things that are going wrong. It was written by Martin Luther while he was hiding in castle from people who wanted to kill him. Tell this brief story of its writing before singing it and encourage worshipers to watch for fear and trust words.
F Psalm 119 is an acrostic, that is an alphabet poem. Each line in each section starts with a word beginning with the same letter. The lines in this section start with the Hebrew letter zade/tsade (צַ). If possible show a Hebrew Bible opened to this psalm or print this passage in Hebrew in your worship bulletin and help people recognize the repeated letter.
When reading the psalm, have the congregation say the Hebrew letter zade before each line is read.
F Each line says something about the value of God’s Word. Hebrew poets rhyme ideas rather than sounds. So, they say the same thing over and over again in slightly different ways. For example,
It is a beautiful day.
The sun is bright and there is not a cloud in the sky.
It is wonderfully warm and there is a pleasant breeze.
I wish every day were just like this one.
Then, read one or two of the lines about God’s Word to show their similarity.
F Challenge children (and others) to write an alphabet psalm praising God on Halloween weekend or on other days when we are afraid. Below is an activity sheet for doing this using words that begin with the letter H in honor of Halloween.
N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N
Try some of Write a psalm prayer about fear.
these words Make each line begin with H in honor of Halloween.
N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N
To understand Isaiah’s message one needs detailed information about worship in Old Testament times and then be able to connect that message to our different form of worship today. That is a tough task for children. So I would tend to use the other Old Testament texts. If you do work with this one, go straight to verses 17 and 18 with the children. They are more direct and use more familiar words.
F If your congregation regularly uses the language about sins as scarlet being made white as snow, this is a good chance to explain what we are saying when we say that and then to use it in the usual way. Bring something rough and deep red (even a wadded up ball of red Christmas foil) and something soft and white (maybe a white sweater or piece of white cotton). As you discuss the colors, remember that most children would prefer red over white. For them the stark difference between red (think red ribbons, Christmas, valentines..) and white (think white paper, white shirt, OK, maybe also snow, but… white is generally boring) is more important than the colors themselves. Tie the difference in the colors to the different feelings we have when we are hiding sins and when we admit them in Psalm 32.
Psalm 32:1-7 SIN TRANSGRESSION INIQUITY DECEIT GUILT
F Psalm 32 in the New Revised Standard Version is a collection of words about sin used often in worship but nowhere else. So, before reading it, list the words and encourage listeners to watch for them in the psalm and in other parts of worship today. If this will be the focus of worship, give children red pencils with which to underline all the sin words they find in their printed order of worship.
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Because there is so much for children in the other texts and themes for this day and because a preacher is likely to go many different ways using this text, I am going to leave it with you. If you find a great connection for children, please share it with the rest of us in the Comments.
F This is another text that can take worship leaders many different directions. Themes that speak especially clearly to children include:
- People CAN change. Zacchaeus changed. You can change. People around you can change.
- The best way to deal with a troublesome person or enemy is to become a friend. We can follow Jesus’ example by eating with the lonely ones or inviting them to eat with us in the school lunch room.
- Giving away money or stuff can save you (or bring happiness). Jesus told Zacchaeus that returning the money he stole and giving half of all he had to the poor was going “to save his life.” Take time to define “save his life” to include bring happiness, peace, and a place among God’s people as well as eternal salvation.
F Jesus and Zacchaeus get most of the attention in this story. But the crowd is us and is worthy of our attention. To explore their responses, enlist the help of a few youth or adults. Their job is to show the crowd’s response at key points in the story using their faces and their whole bodies. The script below could be used to prepare a rehearsed pantomime. Or, it could be the beginning of a more free-wheeling interaction between members of the crowd as the worship leader helps them and the congregation explore the response of the crowd to what happened.
19:1 He entered Jericho and was passing through it.
19:2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich
Zacchaeus stands proudly to one side.
19:3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature.
Jesus stands to the other side. The crowd steps between the two and they jostle with each other with knowing smiles to keep Zacchaeus at the back of the crowd.
19:4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.
Zacchaeus climbs a short step ladder.
19:5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today."
Jesus calls Zacchaeus down.
19:6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.
Zacchaeus comes down smiling happily and heads off with Jesus.
19:7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner."
At this point a worship leader steps in and works with the crowd actors to show with their faces and bodies how they might be feeling. Feelings might range from disbelief (Zacchaeus couldn’t change!) to disgust with Jesus for reaching out to such a sinner or maybe amazed acceptance of what happened.
19:8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much."
Zacchaeus stops, turns to Jesus as this is said.
19:9 Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.
Jesus reaches out to Zacchaeus. Putting an arm around Zacchaeus’ shoulder, walks off the stage with him.
19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."
F It’s another opportunity to point out the invitation to the Lord’s Table and stress that it is open. People who look hopeless like Zacchaeus (and sometimes us) are welcome.
F If it’s still Stewardship Season in your congregation, take a look at Miss Fannie’s Hat, by Jan Karon. Elderly Miss Fannie gives the best of her grand collection of hats to raise money to fix up the church. When she goes to church hatless on Easter morning, she finds the church surrounded by blooming rose bushes purchased with funds from the sale of her hat. She and those all around her find great happiness in her gift. One hopes that Zacchaeus and some of the folks he refunded will share similar happiness.