Saturday, June 28, 2014

Year A - Proper 12, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 7th Sunday after Pentecost (July 27, 2014)

Genesis 29:15-28

> This is an outrageous story about outrageous people doing outrageous things to each other.  It has much in common with tall tales of folklore.  So, tell it in your best storyteller style or invite a good storyteller in the congregation to tell it.  Its message for children (and adults too) is that God gave us free will and lets us use it as we will.  Even when we are using that free will in outrageous ways, God doesn’t give up on us. 

Choose a translation with sexual vocabulary that is appropriate for children.  The NRSV rather awkwardly says Jacob “went into” Leah.  The TEV bluntly says Jacob “had intercourse” with Leah.  The New Jerusalem Bible simply says Jacob “slept” with Leah.  The CEV which says Jacob “spent the night” with Leah is my first choice of translations.  “The Trickster is Tricked” in The Children’s Bible in 365 Stories, by Mary Batchelor, says “the next morning Jacob found that the woman he had married was not Rachel – but Leah.”  If you read the storybook version, stop with “So both sisters were married to Jacob.”  It can be read in about the same time as the biblical version of the story.

Before reading the story, challenge worshipers to think of people who are hard for them to live with.  Suggest that they think of people who pull mean tricks on them, of bullies, of people at school or camp, in the office, in the neighborhood, in the nation, and in the world.  Tell them that Jacob and Laban felt about each other the same way.  Then read the story.  In response to the story ponder the fact that God loved and cared for both Jacob and Laban.  God kicked neither of them out of the family.  Similarly God loves the people who treat us poorly and those we treat poorly.  God treats us all as God treated Jacob and Laban.

Before reading this story, point out to young girls (and all worshipers) that the two sisters in this story are in a tough situation.  In their world their fathers, husbands and brothers made all their decisions and really could use them any way they wished.  To make your point, note that there are frequent biblical references to the “women and cattle” as if they were the same. 

Girls who are sympathetic to Leah are somewhat reassured when told that Leah had more sons than Rachel and that Jacob was buried with Leah not Rachael.  There was some justice.

Psalm 105:1-11, 46b

In the middle of a summer when the news and the weather are all bad, Psalm 105:1-6 calls us to celebrate God’s glory, i.e. all about God that is so cool, so absolutely awesome.  There are several ways to revel in God’s glory.

- Introduce the word GLORY that can be either a noun or a verb.  Either during worship or before, print it in big letters on a large poster – maybe using gold glitter pen.  Then add the other key glory words (thanks, sing, rejoice, seek, remember, tell) from these verses.  Take time to comment on each one as you add it.  Then read the verses in unison.

-        The above could be done as the scripture reading for the day or it could done as the call to worship with the worship leader reading verses 1-6 and the congregation replying with either verse 45b or “Let us worship God.”

-        Make the poster with the children as a children’s time asking different children to write each of the words, taking time to spell the words, and to talk about how they keep us in touch with God’s glory.  Display the poster for the rest of worship and encourage children to listen for the words in your songs and prayers today.

-        Give children a worship worksheet with the Glory words already printed on it and invite them to illustrate God’s glory as they have seen, heard, tasted, even smelled it this summer.

-        If you regularly sing the “Gloria Patri” interrupt after it is sung to ask people what they just sang, walk through the words putting the song’s meaning as it is sung in your service into your own words.  Then, invite everyone to sing it again.  (Do alert the musicians of your plan in advance.)

To encourage the discipline of praise, send worshipers home with verse 3b printed on a bulletin insert.  Urge them to post it on the refrigerator door, bathroom mirror, or some other prominent spot and to read it aloud (as a household if possible) at least once each day this week.  As they do they are to remember how they have sensed God’s glory and to tell each other about those times.  Doing this often leads to thanking God for the glorious things they see, hear, touch, and feel that day. 

To join the psalmist in praising God, sing “O Sing to the Lord!” with all its repetitive praise phrases.  If some can sing the Spanish words, alternate singing each verse in English and Spanish.  Or, enlist guitarists and trumpeters to accompany the song emphasizing its Latin roots.

Or Psalm 128

All the poetic images in this psalm are hard for children to unravel.  Psalm 105 (see above) offers them a lot more.

I Kings 3:5-12

Before reading this story, remind worshipers of all the stories of a genie coming out of a bottle offering three wishes.  Challenge them or work together to create lists of things one might ask for, e.g. the talent and height to play in the NBA, to be extremely smart, to be really rich, or maybe a cure for a seriously ill family member or friend, etc.  Then, read what Solomon asked for when God offered him one wish.

Solomon did not ask to be different than he was.  He asked to be very good at who he was and what he had to do.  He was the king.  We don’t know whether he particularly wanted to be king, but he was the king.  He asked God to help him be the best king he could.  That may be a sign that he was already wise.  In any case, it is worth exploring with children (and probably a number of adults) the possibility that they, like Solomon, are called to be their very best self in the place they are rather than to dream about being someone totally different in a different situation. 

Before the congregation sings “God of Grace and God of Glory,” direct worshipers to the repeated chorus in their hymnals.  Point out that “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage” sounds a lot like Solomon’s prayer.  Then note the sentences that are sung twice at the end of each chorus.  Read each sentence twice and briefly comment on what it means to sing that to God.  Encourage even young readers to try to sing the chorus.  Point out that if they miss the final sentence the first time, they can get it the second time.  Then sing the whole song together.

Solomon’s story is the alternate reading for Jacob’s story.  But, it might be fun to pair the stories to explore the truth that God worked through both conniving Jacob and wise King Solomon.  If God loved and worked through two such different people, maybe there is hope for us.

Psalm 119:129-136

This section of Psalm 119 is not the easiest to share with children.  There is neither clear focus nor a key verse.  If you do use it, enjoy its alphabet poetry.  Each line of this section of the psalm begins with the Hebrew letter PE.  Show it to the congregation.  If you have not shown the children the psalm in a Hebrew Bible before, do so today noting that this is the language Solomon read.  Then have eight readers (either one children’s class or readers of all ages – maybe one or two families) read one verse each. 

Today’s English Version offers easier vocabulary for child readers.

Your teachings are wonderful;
I obey them with all my heart.
130     The explanation of your teachings gives light
and brings wisdom to the ignorant.
131     In my desire for your commands
I pant with open mouth.
132     Turn to me and have mercy on me
as you do on all those who love you.
133     As you have promised, keep me from falling;
don’t let me be overcome by evil.
134     Save me from those who oppress me,
so that I may obey your commands.
135     Bless me with your presence
and teach me your laws.
 136     My tears pour down like a river,
because people do not obey your law.

“We Are Marching in the Light of God” and “Guide My Feet While I Run this Race” parallel the prayers of the psalmist.  Since they have simple repeated phrases and are already known by many children, they are a good choice for today.

Romans 8:26-39

Rather than read this whole passage to children, select key verses to explore in connection to regular parts of worship.  For example,

Verse 34 is often used as an assurance of pardon following a prayer of confession.  If you use it today, interrupt immediate after reading it to explore what it means.  Reread each phrase and put it into your own words in this context.  Then reread it a phrase at a time asking worshipers to repeat each phrase after you say it.

Read Paul’s list of all the things he worried could get between him and God’s loving care in verses 38-39.  Because Paul’s list is a little different that our lists today, make your own list of the things we worry about.  Shel Silverstein provides a wonderful list of things that might be too much for God’s love. 

Whatif by Shel Silverstein

Last night, while I lay thinking here,
some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
and pranced and partied all night long
and sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I'm dumb in school?
Whatif they've closed the swimming pool?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there's poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don't grow taller?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the fish won't bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don't grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems well, and then
the nighttime Whatifs strike again!


Just before The Prayers of the People, i.e. the loooong prayer, connect verses 26-27 about God praying with us to 1 Kings story about Solomon praying.  Point out that we can talk with God about anything from doing a good job (like Solomon) to anything that we are thinking about or worrying about.  God already knows and prays with us.  If the children are sitting with you, together make a list of some things the church might pray for today.  Be sure to include their concerns in the prayer that follows.  Or, if they are scattered throughout the congregation, encourage young worshipers to listen for the many kinds of things that get included in the prayer. 

With the children flip through Florence Parry Heide’s Some Things Are Scary! which is a wonderful collection of things children worry about.  Each page contains one illustration with a short sentence that ends “   is scary.”  Together identify other things that are scary.  Then, read the last phrase of verse 39,”nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God.” Or, reread several of the book pages with all saying the Romans phrase together in response to each page.

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

There are at least five parables in these verses.  To separate them, have each parable read by a different reader with a narrator doing the introduction and conclusion.  For even more impact give each a parable reader a prop.

Narrator: verse 31a
Mustard Seed (rake or hoe): verses 31b-32
Yeast (mixing bowl and spoon): verse 33
Treasure in the Field (treasure chest or small trunk): verse 44
Pearl of Great Price (lots of jewelry to wear): verses 45-46
Net (length of fishing net): verse 47-50
Narrator: verse 51-53

It might be better to focus on one parable with children.  If choosing, I’d avoid the Parable of the Net which is hard to unpack and can frighten children.  If choosing all of them, consider interspersing sermonic comments between the parables rather than expecting worshipers to remember and compare all the parables. 

Laurel Dykstra claims the key to these parables is not the objects, but what people do with them.  They don’t just hold on to them.  The mustard seed gets planted.  The yeast is worth nothing until the baker kneads it into the dough.  “Everything I have” is sold to buy the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price.  The contents of the net are carefully evaluated and used.  So one call to preachers is to challenge worshipers to do something or take some risks or decisive action.  If children are to catch this point, you will need to walk through what the person in one of these parable did in some detail.  Then tell them directly that Jesus was telling us that what we do for God makes a difference.  It may seem small and ordinary, but it makes more difference that we will ever know.  It will help to name specific small things children can do - being kind even when you don’t feel like it, befriending those without friends, etc.

The Mustard Seed Parable

The Carrot Seed, by Ruth Krauss, is a very short book in which everyone tells a little boy that his carrot seed won’t grow, but he keeps watering and weeding and watching and it does grow.  It is a parallel parable about living on faith.  All ages will enjoy it.  Available in public library.

The Seed Song at The Seed Song takes the parable of the mustard seed into wonderful repetitive detail.  After encouraging children to think of themselves as seeds, play the song.  If a musician can learn and sing it so much the better.  For most impact have the children scrunch themselves into seeds and then make motions following the growth of the seed in the song.

Seed by Seed (the story of Johnny Appleseed), by Esme Raji Codell, was mentioned as a resource for sowing in abundance in Proper 10.  It actually works better there, but could also be used here in connection with small seeds making a big difference.  It is too long to read in its entirety.  Either read it for your own understanding and then present it in your own words.  Or read the page about Johnny’s birth, the page that begins “what we do know is that by doing the same small act of planting seeds every day…”, the page that begins “John Chapman journeyed hundreds of miles …” and the last two pages, “Seed by seed, deed by deed, Jonny Appleseed changed the landscape of a nation.  And now it’s your turn.  What seed will you plant?”

Sing “All Things Bright and Beautiful” to celebrate small things that make a big difference.

Display or tape into each printed order of worship a single mustard seed (found in spice section of grocery stores) and be amazed that such a small hard lump can produce a big shrub.  You may want to show a picture of a mature mustard seed from the internet.  Ponder what that says about every small gift making a big difference in the world.  Then inform them that one little mustard seed doesn’t just produce one mustard bush.  Mustard bushes are weeds.  One quickly becomes several and soon takes over the whole field.  That tells us something else about God’s Kingdom – it is unstoppable.  It is going to fill the whole world.  Stress that parables are for thinkers and suggest that they will always be learning new things from the parables.

Or, tape to each printed order of worship one seed for a flower that is featured in the floral display at the front today.  At some point in the service compare the tiny hard seed with the big beautiful flower.

***During the summer groups of children can be enlisted to tape seeds onto printed orders of worship. 

A Pearl of Great Price

The Pearl of Great Price and Treasure Hidden in the Field have a Harry Potter connection.  The invitation to become a student at Hogwarts and the knowledge that he was a wizard were so valuable to Harry, that he left behind everything he knew.  True, he wasn’t leaving anything all the great given where he lived and who he lived with, but still it is not easy to leave what you know.  And, he had to walk straight into the brick column at the railroad station to catch the train to Hogwarts.  These parables challenge us to be as ready to step into something new for God as Harry was to step into that column and go to Hogwarts.

In democracy we often say that the majority rules, but that is only half true.  The other truth is that one person or a very small group of people can change everything.  Rosa Parks sitting down on the Montgomery bus is an historic adult example.  The fable about the boy who said “the Emperor has no clothes” while the adults watched silently is a fictional example children enjoy. 

If you have time, read the full story of Rosa Park’s small refusal to move to the back of the bus that grew into a Supreme Court decision against segregation in Rosa, by Nikki Giovanni.

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