Monday, January 6, 2014

Year A - Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (February 2, 2014)

Micah 6:1-8

* To understand verses 1-5, one must know some Old Testament stories that are unfamiliar to many children.  To grasp verse 6-7, one needs to know about the sacrificial system of Micah’s day – and get past the possibility of human sacrifice.  So, for children the key text is verse 8.  It says simply, what God wants is that you be fair, be kind and walk everyday with God.  Be fair and be kind are easy to understand.  The entry point to explaining the last instruction is to omit the word “humbly” and focus on the importance living every day aware of God and trying to be Jesus’ follower. 

* To honor Micah’s format, have one reader read the question in verse 6a and another read the answer in verse 8.  This could be done as a call to worship with a worship leader posing the question and the congregation answering.

* If you do read verses 1-8 (my lectionary study group was insistent on this last time it came up J):  Set up the courtroom scene with a Judge, God and God’s people.  The whole congregation reads God’s people.


Micah 6:1-8

The Judge:
        Hear what the Lord says:
Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
            Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord,
and you enduring foundations of the earth;
for the Lord has a controversy with his people,
and he will contend with Israel.
         “O my people, what have I done to you?
     In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
         For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
     and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
     and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
         O my people,
              remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
     what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
        and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
     that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”

The People:
      With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high.
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
         Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
 with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
  Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

The Judge:
         He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
  but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God? 



* If you are going to explore the problem of the idolatrous disconnect between worship and life, talk about matching what we read, say and pray in worship with what we do and say every day.  Holding the worship activity in one hand and the everyday activity in the other hand, lay out specific examples such as

Singing songs of love (quote a song you have sung today),
then teasing and pestering our brother in the car on the way home from church. 

Talking about being fair,
then tricking your little sister to get most of her gummy bears. 

Telling God in church that we are Jesus’ follower,
then letting a friend talk us into doing something we know is wrong.

Point out that it is easier to sing and talk about being fair and kind and following Jesus than it is to actually be fair and kind and follow Jesus.  Sometimes though just singing and hearing and praying together makes doing it a little easier.

“What Does the Lord Require?” - The Song
* The hymn “What Does the Lord Require?” which appears in many hymnals is hard for children to understand.  The Strathdees set the words of the verse to a simple tune with the same title.  It is a refrain that can be sung repeatedly or that can be turned into a round.  If you click on, the Strathdees will grant one time rights to any of their music for $10.  (How wonderful is that!)

Frith, William Powell, 1819-1909. Crossing Sweeper,
from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
[retrieved January 5, 2014]. Original source:

* If justice is the focus of worship today, use this picture to launch a conversation about injustice in the world.  Show it to the children asking them what they think is going on here.  Point out the difference in the clothes of the central figures.  Challenge the children to figure out what the boy with his broom might do for the woman.  The reality is that the streets at that time were filled with garbage and horse droppings.  Poor boys would offer to sweep the street in front of ladies so that their long skirts did not get dirty.  For this they were given one small coin.  After noting that this is not something we see today, we do see other signs of people who have plenty of everything while others must beg for the smallest bits.  Together name some of those things, e.g. people standing by the road with signs begging.  Insist that God is working for the day when none of that happens.  Pray for people who are caught in injustice and those who are working for change.

Psalm 15

This psalm is almost a parallel of Micah 6:6-8.  Instead of Micah’s three terse phrases about what God wants, the psalmist provides a list of the characteristics God wants to develop and to avoid.  Usually concrete examples are easier for children than abstract concepts.  This is an exception.  Micah’s be fair, be kind, and walk with God every day make much quicker sense and is more memorable.

* If you do read it, go to Proper 17 (Yr B) for a simple script based on the CEV translation that makes it more accessible for children.

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

* The Corinthians wanted to be "wise" by the standards of their world.  We, even the children, want to look "wise" or "smart" to those around us.  Paul tells the Corinthians and us to forget that.  Instead we are to remember that what looks "wise" to most people in the world is not what looks "wise" to God.  Paul's use of the cross as the ultimate example of the difference in worldly wisdom and God's wisdom is beyond children.  This text serves them best as commentary on the Micah and Matthew readings.  "Being fair, being kind, and walking with God" and some of Jesus beatitudes look very foolish in the eyes of most people, but are wise in God’s eyes.  Even children can see that.  So they appreciate hearing the difference in the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God admitted.  Verse 25 is the key verse for them.

* Examples of the “wise” choices children face today include decisions about whether it is “wise” to give some of your birthday money to the food bank, whether it is “wise” to sit with the outsider kid at lunch or on the bus, or whether it is “wise” to give up an afternoon playing on your own to look after your little brother or sister. 

* The Tawny Scrawny Lion, by Kathryn Jackson, describes a seemingly very foolish way for a fat rabbit to deal with a very hungry lion that turns out to be a wise way to not only avoid getting eaten by the lion, but also make a friend.  For the younger children, the story stands on its own with little or no explanation.  Older children and adults can use the story to identify individuals and groups who threaten them and then to imagine ways they might diffuse the threat by treating the person kindly.  It leads easily to conversations about dealing with bullies.  (Can be read aloud in 6 minutes.)

Matthew 5:1-12

* Older children often enjoy and follow rather closely sermon series – IF the series is clearly announced to them and very specific “this is where we are” and “this is where we are going” information is provided repeatedly.  So, consider a series on the Sermon on the Mount.  Even assign homework, i.e. rereading each weekday day what was read in worship on Sunday.  Encourage families to put the sayings into their own words and to match them with things that happen during their days.  Providing printed copies of each week’s texts that can be posted on refrigerators or propped up on breakfast tables gives families both easy access to the text and a visual reminder of their assignment.

* The sermon series could be titled “Jesus said.”  For each week post a banner or sign featuring a speech bubble bearing the key phrase for that week.  The bubbles could accumulate over the weeks reminding people of what has gone before.  Or, each week could feature just the bubble for that week keeping things focused and easy to read.  Give out index card size posters of the bubble for worshipers to take home to display on their refrigerator, table, mirror, wherever they will see it often. 

* One way to introduce the Sermon on the Mount is to compare it to an inaugural speech in which the person who is being sworn in as president or governor talks about what things will be like while he or she is in charge.  Jesus is talking about what things are/will be like in God’s world. 

* Jesus’ sermon might be titled “The Surprise Sermon” because everything Jesus said was very surprising.  The first surprise is a set of sayings about who will benefit from Jesus’ rule.  It is a tough text to unpack for adults and even harder to unpack for children.  Popular attempts to turn it into a list of Be Attitudes, i.e. attitudes that Jesus endorses, both miss the point of the text entirely and don’t make a lot of sense as presented, e.g. does Jesus really want me to mourn?  The first word of each saying further complicates things especially for children.  “Blessed” is not a frequently used term among today’s children.  But the most frequent translation “happy” is also confusing.  Most children associate happy with happy feelings and Happy Birthday.  It takes time to explain that word and then to explain its slightly different application in different sayings, i.e. happy are those who mourn and happy are the peacemakers.  It is easier (but not easy) to go straight to Jesus’ intention. 

* To explore Jesus’ intention compare who gets the attention and benefits in the world today and who gets the attention and benefits in God’s world.   Below is a children’s version of who benefits in the world today and a very rough translation for children of the Jesus’ list.  Read the first list.  Some children or adults may add other sayings to this list.  Then read the second list.  Point out that Jesus is not giving us a list of nine things to be and do in order to fit into his world.  Instead he is giving us nine hints about how life is different in God’s world.  (Possibility to ponder:  If you must do a children’s time, take the time needed to present these two lists and discuss what Jesus was telling us with the children.  The adults will be listening and learning.  The Sermon can then be shorter because it will build on the foundation you have laid during the children’s time.)

In today’s world…

It’s good for the rich, they can buy whatever they want.

It’s good for the strong, they can take whatever they want.  They will also make the team.

It’s good for the winners, they get all the prizes.

It’s good for the smart.  They get straight A’s, get to go to college, and get good jobs.

It’s good for the beautiful.  They will get their pictures in magazines and get to be in movies.

It’s good for the grownups.  They get to make all the plans.

Jesus says that in his kingdom…

It’s good for those who know they do not know everything.  They belong in God’s world.

It’s good for those who are terribly sad.  They will be comforted.

It’s good for those who obey.  They will be in charge.

It’s good for those who don’t get justice now.  They WILL get it.

It’s good for those who forgive and care about others.  God forgives and cares about them.

It’s good for those who are pure in heart.  They will see God. 

It’s good for the peacemakers.  They will be praised as God’s own children.

It’s good for those who are hurt because they stand up for God’s ways. They will be called heroes and heroines.

It’s even good for you when people come after you because you follow me.  You will be rewarded. 

* The Beatitudes are effectively read in worship by a group of readers.  The worship leader reads verses 1 and 2 to set the scene.  Then, nine readers read one of the beatitudes each. 

If the readers are all from an older children’s class, they have the benefit of preparing together and thinking about what they are reading.

If the readers are individuals of many different ages, their presence suggests that this list is meant for people of all ages.

* Use the Beatitudes as the base for the congregation’s prayers of intercession.   One prayer leader reads one beatitude to which a second responds with prayers for the marginalized ones described in that Beatitude.  This prayer could be turned into a printed litany with a worship leader reading the sayings and the congregation replying with the prayers.


  1. I just came upon Carolyn Gillette's hymn "Upon the Mountain" which summarizes the Sermon on the Mount. You could sing it adding a verse each week as you work through the Sermon. This week sing only the first verse. Find it at .

  2. Her hymn "Blessed are the Poor in Spirit" (tune: "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing") is quite helpful and thematic to the Sermon on the Mount.

  3. Another children's story that helps to illustrate "Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy" is an Aesop's fable "The Mouse and the Lion" there are numerous versions of this story in print and online. Here is one version:

    1. Wonderful story! And it reminds me of Androcles and The Lion which is probably in most public libraries. Does this remind anyone else of another story to share?

  4. The "new hymnal", Glory to God, includes a wonderful hymn called "Blest are They", by David Haas. It was in one of the samplers that came out a year or two ago, so some may be familiar with it from there. It includes the refrain, "Rejoice and be glad! Blessed are you; holy are you! Rejoice and be glad! Yours is the kingdom of God!"

    1. Ooh, I like it too. I found it in "Sing! A New Creation!" So it must be in several recent hymnals. The refrain has lots of good words with which to explore what it means to be "blessed." Thanks for pointing it out.

    2. Also in Voices United (896) and Evangelical Lutheran Worship (728), the latter having only the melody line for the singers(all on one page, easier for those challenged by musical notation but you have to have an accompaniment edition for your keyboard player unless they can make it up...G Major.


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